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Art in Theory 

1900-1990 

An Anthology of Changing Ideas 



Edited by Charles Harrison 
and Paul Wood 



E 



BLACKWELL 

Oxford UK 6- Cambridge USA 



Introductions, selection and editorial matter copyright © Charles Harrison 
and Paul Wood 1992 

First published 1992 

First published in USA 1993 

Reprinted 1993 (three times), 1994, 1995, 1996 (twice), 

1997, 1998, 1999 (twice) 

Blackwell Publishers Ltd 
108 Cowley Road 
Oxford 0X4 1JF, UK 

Blackwell Publishers Inc 

350 Main Street 

Maiden, Massachusetts 02148, USA 

All rights reserved. Except for the quotation of short passages for the purposes 
of criticism and review, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored 
in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, 
mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission 
of the publisher. 

Except in the United States of America, this book is sold subject to the condition 
that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out, or 
otherwise circulated without the publisher's prior consent in any form of binding 
or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition 
including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser. 

British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data 

A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library 

Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data 

Art in theory, 1900-1990 / edited by Charles Harrison and Paul Wood. 

p. cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. 

ISBN 0-63 1-16575-4 (p/b: acid-free paper) 

1 . Art, Modern - 20th century - Philosophy. 

I. Harrison, Charles, 1942. II. Wood, Paul, 1949- 

N6490.A7167 1992 92-6007 

709\04— dc20 CIP 



Typeset in 10 on 12pt Ehrhardt 

by Pure Tech Corporation, Pondicherry, India 

Printed and bound in Great Britain by TJ International Ltd, Padstow, Cornwall 

This book is printed on acid-free paper 



Summary of Contents 



I The Legacy of Symbolism 

A Classicism and Originality 
B Expression and the Primitive 

II The Idea of the Modern World 

A Modernity 
B Cubism 

III Rationalization and Transformation 

A Neo-CIassicism and the Call to Order 
B Dissent and Disorder 
C Abstraction and Form 
D Utility and Construction 

IV Freedom, Responsibility and Power 

A The Modern as Ideal 
B Realism as Figuration 
C Realism as Critique 
D Modernism as Critique 

V The Individual and the Social 

A The American Avant-Garde 
B Individualism in Europe 
C Art and Society 

VI Modernization and Modernism 

A Art and Modern Life 
B Modernist Art 

VII Institutions and Objections 

A Objecthood and Reductivism 
B Attitudes to Form 
C Political Aspects 
D Critical Revisions 

VIII Ideas of the Postmodern 

A The Condition of History 
B The Critique of Originality 
C Figures of Difference 



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Contents 



Acknowledgements xxiii 

A note on the presentation and editing of texts xxiv 

General introduction 1 

I The Legacy of Symbolism 

Introduction 13 

IA Classicism and Originality 

1 Teodor de Wyzewa 

Wagnerian Painting' 1895 17 

2 Paul Signac 

from Eugene Delacroix to Neo- Impressionism 1899 20 

3 Paul Gauguin 

Letter to Fontainas 1899 23 

4 Sigmund Freud 

from 'On Dreams' 1901 26 

5 Otto Weininger 

from Sex and Character 1903 34 

6 Paul Cezanne 

Letters to Emile Bernard 1904-6 37 

7 Maurice Denis (intro. Roger Fry) 

'Cezanne' 1907 40 

8 Maurice Denis 

'From Gauguin and van Gogh to Neo-Classicism' 1909 47 

9 Julius Meier-Graefe 

'The Mediums of Art, Past and Present' 1904 53 

10 Giorgio de Chirico 

'Mystery and Creation' 1913 60 

IB Expression and the Primitive 

1 August Endell 

'The Beauty of Form and Decorative Art 1 1897-8 62 

2 Andre Derain 

Letters to Vlaminck c. 1905-9 65 



viii Contents 

3 Ernst Ludwig Kirchner 
Programme of the Briicke 1906 

4 Wilhelm Worringer 

from Abstraction and Empathy 1908 

5 Henri Matisse 

'Notes of a Painter' 1908 

6 Roger Fry 

'An Essay in Aesthetics' 1909 

7 Wassily Kandinsky 

from Concerning the Spiritual in Art 1911 

8 Wassily Kandinsky 

The Cologne Lecture 1914 

9 Franz Marc 

The "Savages" of Germany' and 'Two Pictures' 1912 

10 August Macke 
'Masks' 1912 

11 Emil Nolde 

'On Primitive Art' 1912 

12 Oskar Kokoschka 

'On the Nature of Visions' 1912 

13 Alexander Shevchenko 
'Neo-Primitivism' 1913 

14 Benedetto Croce 
'What Is Art?' 1913 

15 Give Bell 

'The Aesthetic Hypothesis' 1914 

16 Hermann Bahr 

from Expressionism 1916 

II The Idea of the Modern World 

Introduction 

IlA Modernity 

1 Georg Simmel 

'The Metropolis and Mental Life' 1902-3 

2 Max Weber 

'Asceticism and the Spirit of Capitalism' 1904-5 

3 Vladimir Ilyich Lenin 

'Party Organization and Party Literature' 1905 

4 Henri Bergson 

from Creative Evolution 1907 

5 Alexander Blok 

'Nature and Culture' 1908 

6 Filippo Tommaso Marinetti 

'The Foundation and Manifesto of Futurism' 1909 

7 Umberto Boccioni et al. 

'Futurist Painting: Technical Manifesto' 1910 



Contents ix 



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8 Robert Delaunay 

'On the Construction of Reality in Pure Painting' 1912 

9 Percy Wyndham Lewis 
'Our Vortex' 1914 

10 Franz Marc 
'Foreword' 1914 

1 1 Fernand Leger 

'Contemporary Achievements in Painting' 1914 

12 Henri Gaudier-Brzeska 

'Gaudier-Brzeska Vortex' 1914, and 'Vortex Gaudier-Brzeska' 1915 

13 Karl Kraus 

from 'In These Great Times' 1914 

14 Kasimir Malevich 

From Cubism and Futurism to Suprematism: The New Realism in Painting 
1915-16 

IlB Cubism 

1 Jean Metzinger 

'Note on Painting' 1910 

Guillaume Apollinaire 

'The Cubists' 1911 

Guillaume Apollinaire 

'On the Subject in Modern Painting' 1912 

Guillaume Apollinaire 

'The New Painting: Art Notes' 1912 

Guillaume Apollinaire 

from The Cubist Painters 1912 

Jacques Riviere 

'Present Tendencies in Painting' 1912 

Albert Gleizes and Jean Metzinger 

from Cubism 1912 

8 Fernand Leger 

'The Origins of Painting and its Representational Value' 1913 

9 Olga Rozanova 

'The Bases of the New Creation' 1913 

10 Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler 

from The Rise of Cubism 1915-20 

1 1 Georges Braque 
'Thoughts on Painting' 1917 

12 Pablo Picasso 
'Picasso Speaks' 1923 

III Rationalization and Transformation 

Introduction 
IIlA Neo-Classicism and the Call to Order 
1 Amedee Ozenfant 

'Notes on Cubism' 1916 



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x Contents 

2 Guillaume Apollinaire 

The New Spirit and the Poets' 1918 

3 Oswald Spengler 

from The Decline of the West 1918 

4 Carlo Carra 

'Our Antiquity' 1916-18 

5 Leonce Rosenberg 
Tradition and Cubism' 1919 

6 Giorgio de Chirico 

The Return of the Craft' 1919 

7 Charles Edouard Jeanneret (Le Corbusier) and Amedee Ozenfant 
'Purism' 1920 

8 Albert Gleizes 

The Dada Case' 1920 

9 Andre Derain 
'On Raphael' 1920 

10 Percy Wyndham Lewis 

The Children of the New Epoch' 1921 

11 Juan Gris 

Reply to a Questionnaire 1921 

IIlB Dissent and Disorder 

1 Hugo Ball 

'Dada Fragments' 1916-17 

2 Marcel Duchamp 

The Richard Mutt Case' 1917 

3 Tristan Tzara 

'Dada Manifesto 1918' 1918 

4 Richard Huelsenbeck 

'First German Dada Manifesto' 1918-20 

5 Richard Huelsenbeck and Raoul Hausmann 

'What is Dadaism and what does it want in Germany?' 1918/19 

6 Richard Huelsenbeck 
from En Avant Dada 1920 

7 Alexander Blok 

The Decline of Humanism' 1918 

8 Novembergruppe 

Draft Manifesto 1918 and 'Guidelines' 1919 

9 Novembergruppe Opposition 

'Open Letter to the Novembergruppe' 1921 

10 Walter Gropius 

Reply to Arbeitsrat fur Kunst Questionnaire 1919 

11 Max Beckmann 
'Creative Credo' 1918-20 

12 Max Pechstein 
'Creative Credo' 1920 

13 George Grosz 

'My New Pictures' 1921 



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14 Francis Picabia 

Thank you, Francis!' 1923 



Contents xi 

272 



IIIC Abstraction and Form 

1 Man Ray 
Statement 1916 

2 Viktor Shklovsky 

from 'Art as Technique' 1917 

3 De Stijl 
'Manifesto V 1918 

4 Theo van Doesburg 

from Principles ofNeo-PlasticArt 1915-25 

5 Piet Mondrian 

'Dialogue on the New Plastic' 1919 

6 Piet Mondrian 

Neo-Plasticism: the General Principle of Plastic Equivalence 1920-21 

7 Kasimir Malevich 

'Non-Objective Art and Suprematism' 1919 

8 Kasimir Malevich 

The Question of Imitative Art 1920 

9 Naum Gabo and Anton Pevsner 
The Realistic Manifesto' 1920 

10 UNO VIS 

'Programme of a United Audience in Painting of the Vitebsk State Free 
Workshops' 1920 

11 W'assily Kandinsky 

'Plan for the Physico-psychological Department of the Russian Academy of 
Artistic Sciences' 1921 

12 El Lissitsky 

'A. and Pangeometry' 1925 

HID Utility and Construction 

1 KOMFUT 

'Programme Declaration' 1919 

2 Vladimir Tatlin 

The Initiative Individual in the Collective' 1919 

3 Lyubov Popova 
Catalogue Statement 1919 

4 Nikolai Punin 

The Monument to the Third International' 1920 

5 Alexander Rodchenko 

'Slogans' and 'Organizational Programme' 1920-21 

6 Alexander Rodchenko and Varvara Stepanova 

'Programme of the First Working Group of Constructivists' 1922 

7 Alexei Gan 

from Constructivrm 1922 

8 El Lissitsky and Ilya Ehrenberg 
Statement by the Editors of Veshch 1922 



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xii Contents 

9 LEF editorial 

Whom is LEF Alerting? 1 1923 

10 Osip Brik 

The So-called "Formal Method"' 1923 

11 Osip Brik 

'From Picture to Calico-Print' 1924 

12 Vladimir Tatlin 

'Report of the Section for Material Culture's Research Work 1 1924 

IV Freedom, Responsibility and Power 

Introduction 

IVA The Modern as Ideal 

1 Walter Gropius 

'The Theory and Organization of the Bauhaus' 1923 

2 Paul Klee 

from On Modern Art 1924 

3 Hart Crane 

'General Aims and Theories' 1925 

4 Amedee Ozenfant 

from Foundations of Modern Art 1928 

5 Hans Hofmann 

'On the Aims of Art' 1931 

6 Abstraction-Creation 

Editorial Statements 1932 and 1933 

7 Wladyslaw Strzeminski 
Statements 1932 and 1933 

8 Alfred H. Barr Jr 

from Cubism and Abstract Art 1936 

9 Henri Matisse 
Statements to Teriade 1936 

10 Naum Gabo 

'The Constructive Idea in Art' 1937 

11 Piet Mondrian 

'Plastic Art and Pure Plastic Art' 1937 

12 Barbara Hepworth 
'Sculpture' 1937 

13 American Abstract Artists 
Editorial Statement 1938 

14 Ibram Lassaw 

'On Inventing Our Own Art' 1938 

15 Ben Nicholson 

'Notes on Abstract Art' 1941 

IVB Realism as Figuration 

1 Vladimir Ilyich Lenin 

'On Proletarian Culture' 1920 



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Contents xiii 

2 AKhRR 

'Declaration' 1922 384 

3 AKhRR 

'The Immediate Tasks of AKhRR' 1924 385 

4 David A. Siqueiros et al. 

'A Declaration of Social, Political and Aesthetic Principles' 1922 387 

5 Red Group 

'Manifesto' 1924 388 

6 Otto Dix 

'The Object Is Primary' 1927 389 

7 ARBKD (Asso) 

'Manifesto' and 'Statutes' 1928 390 

8 George Grosz 

from 'My Life' 1928 393 

9 Alfred Rosenberg 

from 'The Myth of the Twentieth Century' 1930 393 

10 Georg Lukacs 

' "Tendency" or Partisanship?' 1932 395 

1 1 Central Committee of the Ail-Union Communist Party 

'Decree on the Reconstruction of Literary and Artistic Organizations' 1932 400 

12 John Reed Club of New York 

'Draft Manifesto' 1932 401 

13 Diego Rivera 

'The Revolutionary Spirit in Modern Art' 1932 404 

14 Mario Sironi 

'Manifesto of Mural Painting' 1933 407 

15 Andrei Zhdanov 

'Speech to the Congress of Soviet Writers' 1934 409 

16 David A. Siqueiros 

'Towards a Transformation of the Plastic Arts' 1934 412 

17 Stuart Davis and Clarence Weinstock 

'Abstract Painting in America', 'Contradictions in Abstractions' and 

'A Medium of 2 Dimensions' 1935 415 

18 Grant Wood 

from Revolt Against the City 1935 418 

19 Francis Klingender 

'Content and Form in Art' 1935 421 

20 Adolf Hitler 

Speech Inaugurating the 'Great Exhibition of German Art' 1937 423 

IVc Realism as Critique 

1 Leon Trotsky 

from Literature and Revolution 1922-3 427 

2 Andre Breton 

from the First Manifesto of Surrealism 1924 432 

3 Louis Aragon et al. 

'Declaration of the Bureau de Recherches Surrealistes* 1925 439 

4 Andre Breton 

Surrealism and Painting 1928 440 



xiv Contents 

5 Andre Breton 

from the Second Manifesto of Surrealism 1929 

6 George Grosz and Wieland Herzfelde 
'Art Is in Danger' 1925 

7 Osip Brik 

'Photography versus Painting' 1926 

8 Sergei Tretyakov 

'We Are Searching 1 and 'We Raise the Alarm' 1927 

9 Siegfried Kracauer 

from 'The Mass Ornament' 1927 

10 October (Association of Artistic Labour) 
'Declaration' 1928 

11 V. N. Volosinov 

from Marxism and the Philosophy of Language 1929 

12 Georges Bataille 

from 'Critical Dictionary' 1929-30 

13 Georges Bataille 

'The Lugubrious Game'' 1929 

14 Salvador Dali 

'The Stinking Ass' 1930 

15 Walter Benjamin 

Letter to Gershom Scholem 1931 

16 Walter Benjamin 

'The Author as Producer' 1934 

17 Bertolt Brecht 

'Popularity and Realism' 1938 

18 Fernand Leger 

The New Realism Goes On' 1936 

IVD Modernism as Critique 

1 Kasimir Malevich 
Letter to Meyerhold 1932 

2 Pablo Picasso 
'Conversation with Picasso' 1935 

3 Herbert Read 

'What Is Revolutionary Art?' 1935 

4 Meyer Schapiro 

'The Social Bases of Art' 1936 

5 Jan Mukafovsky 

from Aesthetic Function 1934/36 

6 Walter Benjamin 

'The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction' 1936 

7 Theodor Adorno 
Letter to Benjamin 1936 

8 Ernst Bloch 

'Discussing Expressionism' 1938 

9 Andre Breton, Diego Rivera and Leon Trotsky 
'Towards a Free Revolutionary Art' 1938 



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10 Clement Greenberg 
'Avant-Garde and Kitsch' 1939 

11 Harold Rosenberg 
'The Fall of Paris' 1940 

V The Individual and the Social 

Introduction 

VA The American Avant-Garde 

1 Clement Greenberg 

'Towards a Newer Laocoon' 1940 

2 Jackson Pollock 

Answers to a Questionnaire 1944 

3 Adolph Gottlieb and Mark Rothko with Barnett Newman 
Statement 1943 

4 Mark Rothko 

'The Romantics were Prompted . . . ' 1947 

5 Adolph Gottlieb 
Statement 1947 

6 Mark Rothko 
Statement 1947 

7 Barnett Newman 

'The Ideographic Picture' 1947 

8 Barnett Newman 

'The First Man Was an Artist' 1947 

9 Clement Greenberg 

'The Decline of Cubism' 1948 

10 Barnett Newman 

'The Sublime Is Now' 1948 

11 Jackson Pollock 

Interview with William Wright 1950 

12 David Smith 

'Aesthetics, the Artist and the Audience' 1952 

13 Clyfford Still 
Statement 1952 

14 Harold Rosenberg 

from 'The American Action Painters' 1952 

15 Clyfford Still 

Letter to Gordon Smith 1959 

Vb Individualism in Europe 

1 Jean-Paul Sartre 

from Existentialism and Humanism 1946 

2 Jean Dubuffet 

'Notes for the Well-Lettered' 1946 

3 Jean Dubuffet 

'Crude Art Preferred to Cultural Art' 1948 



Contents xv 

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xvi Contents 



4 Antonin Artaud 

from Van Gogh: the Man Suicided by Society 1947 595 

5 Jean-Paul Sartre 

The Search for the Absolute 1 1948 599 

6 Samuel Beckett and Georges Duthuit 

from Three Dialogues 1949 605 

7 Jacques Lacan 

'The Mirror-Phase as Formative of the Function of the I' 1949 609 

8 Jean-Michel Atlan 

'Abstraction and Adventure in Contemporary Art' 1950 613 

9 Francis Ponge 

'Reflections on the Statuettes, Figures and Paintings of Alberto Giacometti 1 1951 614 

10 Albert Camus 

'Creation and Revolution' 1951 615 

1 1 Michel Tapie 

from An Other Art 1952 619 

12 Georg Baselitz 

'Pandemonium Manifestos 1 1961-2 621 

13 Francis Bacon 

Interview with David Sylvester 1962-3 625 

Vc Art and Society 

1 Maurice de Vlaminck 

'Open Opinions on Painting' 1942 630 

2 Francis Klingender 

from Marxism and Modern Art 1943 631 

3 Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer 

'The Parable of the Oarsmen' 1944 633 

4 Robert Motherwell 

'The Modern Painter's World' 1944 635 

5 Pablo Picasso 

'Why I Joined the Communist Party' 1944 638 

6 Pablo Picasso 

Statement to Simone Tery 1945 639 

7 Fernand Leger 

'The Human Body Considered as an Object' 1945 640 

8 Lucio Fontana 

'The White Manifesto' 1946 642 

9 Vladimir Kemenov 

from 'Aspects of Two Cultures' 1947 647 

10 Robert Motherwell and Harold Rosenberg 

'The Question of What Will Emerge Is Left Open' 1947/8 649 

1 1 Constant 

'Our Own Desires Build the Revolution' 1949 650 

12 Asger Jorn 

'Forms Conceived as Language' 1949 651 

13 Andre Fougeron 

'The Painter on his Battlement' 1948 652 



Contents xvii 



14 George Dondero 

from The Congressional Record 1949 

15 Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr 

from The Politics of Freedom 1950 

16 Alfred H. Barr Jr 

'Is Modern Art Communistic?' 1952 

17 David Smith 

'Economic Support of Art in America Today' 1953 

18 Ben Shahn 

'The Artist and the Politician' 1953 

19 Henry Moore 

'The Sculptor in Modern Society' 1952 

20 David A Siqueiros 

'Open Letter to the Painters, Sculptors and Engravers of the Soviet 
Union' 1955 

21 Georg Lukacs 

'The Ideology of Modernism' 1958 

VI Modernization and Modernism 

Introduction 

VIA Art and Modern Life 

1 Roland Barthes 

from 'Myth Today' 1956 

2 Guy Debord 

Writings from the Situationist International 1957-61 

3 Lawrence Alloway 

'The Arts and the Mass Media' 1958 

4 Alan Kaprow 

from Assemblages, Environments and Happenings 1959-65 

5 Piero Manzoni 

'Free Dimension' 1960 

6 Pierre Restany 

'The New Realists' 1960 

7 Raymond Williams 

'The Analysis of Culture' 1961 

8 John Cage 

'On Robert Rauschenberg, Artist, and his Work' 1961 

9 Jasper Johns 

Interview with David Sylvester 1965 

10 Richard Hamilton 

'For the Finest Art, Try Pop' 1961 

1 1 Claes Oldenburg 

'I Am for an Art . . . ' 1961 

12 Andy Warhol 

Interview with Gene Swenson 1963 



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xviii Contents 

13 Roy Lichtenstein 

Lecture to the College Art Association 1964 

14 George Kubler 

from The Shape of Time 1962 

15 Marshall McLuhan 

from Understanding Media 1964 

16 Tony Smith 

from Interview with Samuel Wagstaff Jr 1966 

VlB Modernist Art 

1 Alain Robbe-Grillet 
'Commitment* 1957 

2 David Smith 

Tradition and Identity' 1959 

3 Maurice Merleau-Ponty 
from 'Eye and Mind' 1961 

4 Clement Greenberg 
'Modernist Painting' 1960-65 

5 Theodor Adorno 

from 'Commitment' 1962 

6 Barnett Newman 

Interview with Dorothy Gees Seckler 1962 

7 Clement Greenberg 

from 'After Abstract Expressionism 1 1962 

8 Michael Fried 

from Three American Painters 1965 

9 Michael Fried 

from 'Shape as Form: Frank Stella's New Paintings' 1966 

10 Jules Olitski 
'Painting in Color' 1967 

11 Stanley Cavell 

'A Matter of Meaning It' 1967 

12 William Tucker and Tim Scott 
'Reflections on Sculpture' 1967 

13 Richard Wollheim 

'The Work of Art as Object' 1970 

VII Institutions and Objections 

Introduction 

VIlA Objecthood and Reductivism 

1 Yves Klein 
Sorbonne Lecture 1959 

2 Frank Stella 

Pratt Institute Lecture 1959-60 

3 Ad Reinhardt 
'Art as Art' 1962 



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Contents xix 

4 Donald Judd 

'Specific Objects' 1965 809 

5 Robert Morris 

'Notes on Sculpture 1-3' 1966-7 813 

6 Michael Fried 

'Art and Objecthood' 1967 822 

7 Sol LeWitt 

'Paragraphs on Conceptual Art' 1967 834 

8 Sol LeWitt 

'Sentences on Conceptual Art' 1969 837 

9 Robert Barry 

Interview with Arthur R, Rose 1969 839 

10 Joseph Kosuth 

'Art after Philosophy' 1969 840 

1 1 Daniel Buren, Olivier Mosset, Michel Parmentier, Niele Toroni 

Statement 1967 850 

12 Daniel Buren 

'Beware' 1969-70 850 

VIlB Attitudes to Form 

1 Terry Atkinson and Michael Baldwin 

'Air Show' 1967 858 

2 Robert Smithson 

'A Sedimentation of the Mind: Earth Projects' 1968 863 

3 Robert Morris 

'Notes on Sculpture 4: Beyond Objects' 1969 868 

4 Art & Language 

Editorial introduction to Art-Language 1969 873 

5 Ian Burn and Mel Ramsden 

'The Role of Language' 1969 879 

6 Lawrence Weiner 

Statements 1969-72 881 

7 Victor Burgin 

'Situational Aesthetics' 1969 883 

8 John A. Murphy 

Sponsor's Statement for 'When Attitudes become Form' 1969 885 

9 Germano Celant 

from Art Povera 1969 886 

10 Joseph Beuys 

'Not Just a Few Are Called, But Everyone' 1972 889 

VIIC Political Aspects 

1 Lucy Lippard 

'Interview with Ursula Meyer' 1969 and 'Postface' to Six Years 1973 893 

2 Art forum 

from 'The Artist and Politics: a Symposium' 1970 896 

3 Art Workers' Coalition 

Statement of Demands 1970 901 



xx Contents 

4 Joseph Beuys 

'I Am Searching for Field Character' 1974 

5 Hans Haacke 
Statement 1974 

6 Mel Ramsden 

from 'On Practice' 1975 

7 Ian Burn 

The Art Market: Affluence and Degradation' 1975 

8 Victor Burgin 

from 'Socialist Formalism' 1976 

9 Art & Language 

Editorial to Art-Language 1976 

VIlD Critical Revisions 

1 Jacques Derrida 

from Of Grammatology 1967 

2 Michel Foucault 

'What Is an Author? 1 1969 

3 Louis Althusser 

from 'Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses' 1970 

4 Thomas Kuhn 

from 'Postscript - 1969' 1970 

5 Roland Barthes 

'From Work to Text' 1971 

6 Robert Smithson 
'Cultural Confinement' 1972 

7 Leo Steinberg 

from Other Criteria 1968-72 

8 Rosalind Krauss 

'A View of Modernism' 1972 

9 Jean Baudrillard 

'Ethic of Labour, Aesthetic of Play' 1973 

10 Julia Kristeva 

'Prolegomenon' to Revolution in Poetic Language 1974 

11 Laura Mulvey 

from 'Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema' 1973/75 

12 Michel Foucault 
A Lecture 1976 

13 Fredric Jameson 

from 'Reflections on the Brecht-Lukacs Debate' 1977 

14 Raymond Williams 

'Dominant, Residual and Emergent' 1977 



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VIII Ideas of the Postmodern 

Introduction 



Contents xxi 



987 



VIIlA The Condition of History 

1 Daniel Bell 

from 'Modernism and Capitalism' 1978 993 

2 Jean-Francois Lyotard 

Introduction to The Postmodern Condition 1979 998 

3 Jiirgen Habermas 

'Modernity - An Incomplete Project' 1980 1000 

4 Jean-Francois Lyotard 

'What Is Postmodernism?' 1982 1008 

5 Julia Kristeva 

'Powers of Horror' 1980 1015 

6 Art & Language 

'Art & Language Paints a Picture' 1983 1018 

7 Donald Judd 

from * ... not about master-pieces but why there are so few of them' 1984 1028 

8 Joseph Beuys, Jannis Kounellis, Anselm Kiefer, Enzo Cucchi 

from 'The Cultural-Historical Tragedy of the European Continent' 1985 1032 

9 Gerhard Richter 

from 'Interview with Benjamin Buchloh' 1986 1036 

10 Gerhard Richter 

Notes 1990 1047 

VIIlB The Critique of Originality 

1 Jean Baudrillard 

'The Hyper-realism of Simulation' 1976 1049 

2 Craig Owens 

from 'The Allegorical Impulse: Towards a Theory of Postmodernism' 1980 1051 

3 Rosalind Krauss 

from 'The Originality of the Avant-Garde' 1981 1060 

4 Hal Foster 

from 'Subversive Signs' 1982 1065 

5 Sherrie Levine 

Statement 1982 1066 

6 Art & Language 

'Letter to a Canadian Curator' 1982 1067 

7 Barbara Kruger 

'"Taking" Pictures' 1982 1070 

8 Peter Halley 

'Nature and Culture' 1983 1071 

9 Fredric Jameson 

'The Deconstruction of Expression' 1984 1074 

10 Haim Steinbach, Jeff Koons, Sherrie Levine, Philip Taaffe, Peter Halley, 
Ashley Bickerton 

'From Criticism to Complicity' 1986 1080 



xxii Contents 



11 Julia Kristeva 

Interview with Catherine Francblin 1986 1084 

VIIIC Figures of Difference 

1 Edward Said 

from 'Opponents, Audiences, Constituencies, and Community' 1981 1086 

2 Mary Kelly 

'Re-Viewing Modernist Criticism' 1981 1088 

3 Krzysztof Wodiczko 

'Public Projection' 1983 1094 

4 Victor Burgin 

from 'The Absence of Presence' 1984 1097 

5 Jacqueline Rose 

'Sexuality in the Field of Vision' 1984/85 1101 

6 W. J. T. Mitchell 

'Image and Word' and 'Mute Poesy and Blind Painting' 1986 1106 

7 Flint Schier 

'Painting after Art?: Comments on Wollheim' 1987/91 1111 

8 Raymond Williams 

'When Was Modernism?' 1987/89 1116 

9 Gayatri Chakravorti Spivak 

'Who Claims Alterity?' 1989 1119 

10 Richard Serra 

from The Yale Lecture 1990 1124 

Bibliography 1129 

Copyright acknowledgements 1155 

Index 1169 



Acknowledgements 



Our foremost thanks go to those numerous authors and copyright-holders who 
have permitted us to reproduce the texts here included, and to edit them where 
we have felt the need to do so. We are also indebted to the translators and 
editors of more specialized anthologies who have been most generous in making 
material available to us. We have met so little resistance to our requests that 
we must own the selection as it stands as an accurate product of our intentions. 
This is to say that, within the limits of what could be contained in a single 
volume, and of what we could trace within the time at our disposal, this book 
fairly represents the substance of our conversations and the nature of our 
agreements. 

In the long task of tracing and compiling material we have benefited greatly 
from the advice and assistance of friends and colleagues at the Open University 
and elsewhere. We would like particularly to thank Stephen Bann, David 
Batchelor, Tim Benton, Anthony Coulson, Thomas Crow, Trish Evans, Briony 
Fer, Tamar Garb, Roberta Glave, Andrew Hemingway, Rosalind Krauss, Fred 
Orton, Gillian Perry, Paul Smith and Sarah Wilson. We would also like to 
express our considerable gratitude to Val Glenn for her work in tracing 
copyright-holders and securing permissions, to Denise Powers for her contribu- 
tion to the typing of our manuscripts, to Helen Dore for meticulous attention 
to the task of copy-editing, and to Jane Robertson, Managing Editor for 
Blackwell Publishers, for keeping the whole project on the rails. 

C. H. 
P. W. 



A Note on the Presentation 
and Editing of Texts 



A note on presentation xxv 

the later part of the century for the theory of art to be treated as an academic 
subject. We have generally avoided the insertion of editorial footnotes, but have 
supplied essential references in the introductions to individual texts. 

We have corrected typographical errors and errors of transcription where we 
have discovered them in the anthologized texts, but otherwise we have left 
idiosyncrasies of punctuation, spelling and style unchanged. 



Where a published document was originally given a title, this has generally been 
used for the present publication, in single quotation marks. Titles of books are 
given in italics. Where a specific subtitled section of a document has been taken, 
this subtitle is used for the extract. The title of the whole work is then given 
in the introduction to that text. In the absence of original published titles we 
have given descriptive headings without quotation marks. The term 'from' 
preceding a title signifies that we have taken a specific extract or extracts from 
a longer text, without seeking to represent the argument of the whole. Otherwise 
texts are given in their entirety or are edited so as to indicate the argument of 
the whole. 

It is the aim of this anthology that it should be wide-ranging. We have 
therefore preferred the course of including a greater number of texts, of which 
several must appear in abbreviated form, to the course of presenting a small 
number in their entirety. Texts have been variously edited to shorten them, to 
eliminate references which cannot be explained within the space available, and 
where necessary to preserve the flow of argument. We have provided information 
as to the sources for complete versions of all edited texts. We have also clearly 
marked where texts have been edited. 

The following conventions have been used throughout. Suspended points 
' . . . ' are used to denote the omission of words or phrases within a sentence. 
Suspended points within square brackets '[...]' are used to denote omissions 
extending from a complete sentence to a paragraph. Asterisks '* * *' denote 
omission of more than one paragraph, and may denote exclusion of a complete 
subdivision of the original text. It should be noted that a paragraph may end 
thus [ . . . ] , either if the last sentence of that paragraph is omitted or if the 
following paragraph is omitted. A paragraph may also start thus [. . .] , if one 
or more sentences at the beginning of that paragraph have been omitted, or if 
a previous paragraph has been omitted. 

Notes and references have only been included where we judged them necessary 
to the text as printed. That there is a greater proportion of notes in the later 
section of the book is largely accounted for by an increasing tendency during 



Introduction 



The aim of this book is to equip the student of modern art and the interested 
general reader with a substantial and representative collection of relevant texts, 
drawn from a wide variety of sources. The literature of modern art now 
constitutes a massive resource, but it is a resource which presents certain 
problems to the student who hopes to profit by it. The most immediately evident 
of these is difficulty of access. On the one hand the modern development of 
art has been a cosmopolitan business, so that its attendant theory has been 
extended through a number of different languages. On the other, the decisive 
moments of that development have often been reserved from public view, as 
likely to be represented in the private letter or the ephemeral journal as the 
broadcast manifesto or the printed book. What this means is that for all except 
those equipped both with considerable linguistic abilities and with the resources 
of a major library, study of the literature of modern art has necessarily been 
highly selective. That there exists a prima facie case for a collection such as 
the present one has been made clear to us in our own daily work of teaching 
and writing about art in the modern period. It has accordingly been our intention 
to improve access to the literature of modern art, both by rendering the present 
materials more generally available to study and by providing indications of the 
nature and location of other relevant publications. 

Of course there exist various specialized collections restricted to particular 
movements or periods, and to that extent ours has been a task of synthesis. 
Nevertheless, it has been an ambitious undertaking, and it cannot be expected 
that the outcome will please all people all of the time. We are aware both that 
the usefulness of such an enterprise must depend heavily upon the principles 
of selection, and that agreement on such principles is by the very nature of the 
subject hard to secure. Anyone seeking to represent the theoretical character of 
modern art must address two difficult and interconnected questions: how is 
modern art to be defined, and how is the field of its relevant interests to be 
circumscribed? To consider the extensive literature and the extended history of 
modern art is inescapably to feel the force of questions raised in practice, 
questions about the definition of art itself, and about the lines of demarcation 
between art and that which art is not. It is also to confront questions about the 
construction of historical narratives, about the interests which such narratives 



2 Introduction 



Introduction 3 



may be seen to serve and the kinds of exclusion which they involve. And, most 
tellingly from the point of view of the present project, it is to confront the 
inter-relationship between the one set of questions and the other; between 
problems of definition and problems of historical organization. Any history of 
art must establish or assume a form of definition of art, while any history of 
modern art must establish or assume a definition of modernity. Any address to 
these problems will serve to animate a range of questions: where to draw the 
line between theory and practice, where to divide art from language or from 
literature or from politics, and so on. 



Modernism and modern art 

Our selection is not intended to resolve these problems. On the contrary, we 
mean to suggest that acknowledgement of the openness of a range of open 
questions is a condition of any competent study of modern art and of its theory. 
But we can at least be explicit about our historical parameters, since these are 
largely decided for us by the current state of art-theoretical debate, and 
specifically by that interest in the idea of the Postmodern which has developed 
since the later 1960s. The period we have aimed to survey, then, coincides with 
the life-span of Modernism as a determining if gradually decaying value in the 
theory of art. We therefore commence with the end of the nineteenth century, 
at a time when modern art was being widely advanced as a form of independent 
culture, its critical bearing upon the world secured not by connections of likeness 
or of naturalism, but by virtue of the very independence of its values. Art, it 
was then proposed, is an exemplary realm. What might be done, seen, experi- 
enced within this realm would have a critical bearing upon the actual conditions 
of social existence, but only in so far as art maintained a moral independence 
from those conditions. 

This position, which can be explicitly identified with the tradition of Mod- 
ernism, was never to go unopposed in the development of modern art. Speci- 
fically, it was to be maintained in tension with the variant commitments of 
Realism, according to which the practice of art constitutes a form of participation 
or intervention in the social process. If this tension was continual, it was also 
subject to continual adjustments. At times during the twentieth century the two 
positions appear irreconcilable. At rare moments they appear virtually to coin- 
cide. These adjustments are not simply to be read out of the appearances of 
art, however. In the history of modern art such commitments to moral autonomy 
from or to intervention in wider forms of social life have not always coincided 
with the stylistic forms of practice to which propagandists of both persuasions 
have frequently tried to reduce them. Such supposed antitheses as 'abstraction' 
and 'representation' have seldom been adequate to the task of formulating 
relevant distinctions among the determining commitments of modern art, how- 
ever familiar they may have become in the literary scaffolding erected around 
it. 



i 



It should be clear, then, that modern art cannot simply be equated with 
Modernism. Rather Modernism stands on the one hand for a cluster of 
notionally independent values associated with the practice of modern art and 
on the other for a particular form of critical representation of the modern in art 
- a representation in which the pursuit of art's moral independence is taken to 
be decisive. In saying that we aim to survey the literature of modern art during 
the life-span of Modernism, then, we mean to acknowledge the historical 
significance of this system of values and to assist the reader in coming to 
recognize and to understand it. We mean also to acknowledge other positions, 
including those explicitly hostile to Modernism both as practice and as repre- 
sentation. 

For our present purposes, one significant feature of Modernism as a form of 
representation is that it assumes certain kinds of relations between art and theory 
and between art and language. In the formulation of Clement Greenberg, whose 
name is virtually synonymous with Modernist criticism, the development of 
modern art has been 'immanent to practice' and never a matter of theory. It 
follows that theory must always be post hoc, either in the sense that theoretical 
work is work which attempts to follow and to recount those developments which 
practice has already initiated, or in the sense that theory is conceived as a form 
of privileged insight into the psychology of practice, as when the artist offers 
a retrospective account of the intentions behind some already achieved body of 
work. 

This is a position - indeed an influential form of theory in itself - which 
tends to privilege the artist as unquestionable author, and to consign theory to 
the apparatus of documentary ratification. But of course artists do not always 
do what they intend, nor is what they say they have done always what they 
have done. From another perspective 'representations are always built out of 
pre-existing cultural resources, and hence have always to be explained as 
developments within an ongoing cultural tradition' (Barry Barnes, Interests and 
the Growth of Knowledge, London, 1977, p. 19). The functions of a representation 
are not to be explained in terms of the intentions of an individual author; rather 
they can only properly be understood in terms of the objectives of some social 
group. Whether or not it is always appropriate or rewarding, it is clearly possible 
to view any and all works of art as representations in this sense. If the meanings 
of art are thus conceived as forms of social and historical meaning, there will 
be a concomitant shift in what comes up for the count as relevant theory. For 
instance, we may find ourselves paying less heed to artists' confessional state- 
ments and more to the circulation of ideas in the world which their practices 
inhabit. If this is not a Realist view of theory, it is at least a view which is 
commensurable with some Realist critiques of Modernism. 

In so far as our selection surveys the field of modern art during the currency 
of Modernism, then, it has seemed appropriate to represent the tension between 
these two ways of conceiving of theory, even to sustain this tension in our own 
deliberations. To speak in general terms of the 'theory of modern art', we would 
suggest, is to refer to a body of ideas defined by the continuous interaction of 
two almost but not quite reciprocal projects: the theoretical critique of art which 



4 Introduction 

is based on an understanding of historical process, and the understanding of 
historical process which is formed by the critical experience of art. The theory 
we have aimed to represent, then, could be conceived of as that body of thought 
about art which has been conducted under the conditions of this dilemma. By 
the same token, we would suggest that if it makes sense to conceive of a 
Postmodern form of art theory, then we must be referring to some circumstance 
in which this dilemma, though it may be understood in historical terms, is no 
longer experienced as an inescapable condition of thought about art. 

If an interest in the life-span of Modernism has provided one basis on which 
to consider our selection, we have also been fortunate in the resource provided 
by our major predecessor in the documentation of modern art theory. Herschel 
B. Chipp's Theories of Modern Art was first published in 1968, which is to say 
at the zenith of Modernism - or at least of Modernism considered as an 
authoritative form of representation of value in modern art. This is not to say, 
however, that Chipp's selection of texts simply reflects that authority. Even 
with the benefit of hindsight his survey appears relatively catholic. That is 
largely why it has for so long maintained its standing as an indispensable 
accompaniment to the study of modern art and of its history. Among the artists 
and movements given their due by Chipp were some that had been systematically 
marginalized by the hardening orthodoxy of a Modernist art history. There were 
clear omissions, however, many of them in just those areas which the art history 
of the 1970s and 80s was to be most assiduous in exploring. For example, we 
have been able to benefit as Chipp could not from substantial recent publication 
in the field of Russian art, from a wholesale revision in the art-historical 
understanding of the Surrealist movement, from a revival of interest in the 
inter-war debates on Realism and avant-gardism, and, perhaps most significantly, 
from the growth of a critical self-consciousness about the history of Modernism 
itself. Regarding the period since the publication of Theories of Modern Art, the 
field is fallow. While there have been numerous collections surveying individual 
movements and intellectual fashions, there has been no sustained attempt to 
review the late-twentieth-century literature of art as a multifarious extension of 
historical concerns. It must be an important function of such an enterprise - 
of an enterprise, that is to say, such as the present one - that while volunteering 
an ordered account of the recent past it serves also to reorient the earlier history 
and to cast a new light on its characteristic themes. It has accordingly been our 
aim both to represent the terms of reference on which theoretical debates of 
relevance to art took place in the earlier years of this century, and to extend 
the surveying of these debates from the post-war settlement up to the present. 
This would unquestionably have been a very different and very much more 
demanding task without the markers established by Chipp's pioneering work. 



Obscurity and the sense of practice 

Consideration of the problem of access to the literature of modern art has led 
us to a discussion of the conditions of our selection. The reader's approach to 



Introduction 5 

this literature will normally involve a further problem not unconnected to the 
first: the problem of obscurity. The literature of modern art is by no means 
uniformly difficult to understand, but much of it is. Obscurity can occasionally 
be deliberate, or at least it can sometimes follow from the refusal of specific 
concepts and requirements of rationality by artists and their supporters, or - 
which may be to say the same thing - from a determined attempt to conscript 
language to the purposes of art. A more general reason for difficulty, however, 
is that notwithstanding its engagement with historical themes and issues, the 
development of modern art has been a highly specialized business. For all the 
claims to immediacy and universality of expression which have accompanied 
that development, the distinguishing experience of the modern artist has been 
in large part an experience of technical problems and possibilities. 

The problem of the obscurity of art-theoretical texts is thus not one which 
can be altogether overcome in any representative collection. We have preferred 
clearer texts to more obscure ones wherever there has been a choice, and we 
have included nothing unless we believe its place is earned by virtue of what 
it says. This is not a collection of artists' obiter dicta, and no text has been 
included simply by virtue of the supposed standing of its author. That said, it 
should be acknowledged that among the texts which we have regarded as sure 
candidates for inclusion, some just are difficult. On the other hand, though it 
must be beyond the scope of a large anthology to render such texts entirely 
transparent, we have aimed to establish a context in which their concerns can 
at least be located, both as forms of contribution to a developing body of ideas 
about art, and as forms of negotiation with a continually changing world. This 
is to say that the anthology as a whole is designed to furnish a context within 
which each of its component texts may be the better understood. 

It needs to be borne in mind, however, that the literature of modern art has 
developed as an accompaniment to forms of practice, typically standing as 
justification or explanation of that which, by definition, is supposed to be seen. 
The practical growth of abstract art, for example, was accompanied by a 
considerable proliferation of theory, much of which was intended to establish 
the critical character of the appropriate technical procedures and the meaning- 
fulness of specific painterly effects. It is a truism that this theory is obscure, 
which is to say that its practical character is often hard to recover. If the texts 
of Kandinsky, of Malevich or of Mondrian are to make sense, the reader must 
sometimes work to imagine a concrete effect which the artist-as-writer once took 
to be self-evident. No awareness of the context of debate, however extensive or 
acute, will serve to substitute for this work. The reading of art theory needs to 
be accompanied by a calling to mind of art itself; and what this requires is not 
just recall of the subjects of pictures, but acknowledgement of the distinctive 
properties of objects and surfaces. Reproductions may serve as aide-memoire in 
this process, but they cannot replace it. This anthology will be of greatest benefit 
to those readers who treat it not simply as a resource for the study of art history, 
but as an accompaniment to the first-hand experience of modern art. 



6 Introduction 



Theory in context 

There is more to be said about the question of contextualization, for the common 
problem of lack of context is the third of the major barriers to the study of 
modern art which we have tried to bear in mind in the compilation and 
organization of this book. The nature of the problem is not simply that the 
literature of art as we encounter it has generally been disconnected from the 
actual practice of art, but rather that the study of modern art itself tends often 
to be pursued in isolation from the study of history - and never more so than 
when it is considered under its theoretical aspect. This tendency has been 
aggravated to the extent that art history has been subject to the protocols of 
Modernism. Faced with the dilemma mentioned earlier, the Modernist position 
has consistently been to affirm the priority of a supposedly empirical aesthetic 
experience over a theoretically informed historical understanding. After all, what 
use conceiving of a theory of art in the first place if it is not to be distinguished 
from political or social theory or from philosophy? 

Yet it is a lesson generally well absorbed in recent art history that what may 
appear as a specialized dispute over technical issues is often only really com- 
prehensible as the specific form of a larger problem. We may need to consider 
the surrounding historical context if we are to understand the circumstances 
under which that problem was experienced. The different artistic commitments 
of Suprematists and Constructivists, for example, follow from different per- 
ceptions of the function and direction of cultural activity in Russia during 
the revolution and its aftermath. It is from historical conditions such as 
these that the technical issues of practice tend to derive their otherwise inex- 
plicable gravity. The awareness of history animates the understanding of art, 
just as the critical experience of art sophisticates the understanding of historical 
process. 

It has in fact been one of the principal objects of our enterprise to emancipate 
the reader from a form of experience familiar under the cultural regime of 
Modernism: that demeaning combination of unrewarded anticipation and unsat- 
isified curiosity which can attend on the viewing of works out of context. It 
may be the case, as the Modernist connoisseur would claim, that works of art 
do indeed 'speak for themselves' to the adequately sensitive, adequately informed 
spectator. But the idea needs to be treated with circumspection. It has too often 
in the twentieth century been used as justification for treating those lacking in 
information as if they were deficient in sensitivity. We believe that a careful 
reading of the theories and debates represented in our collection will serve to 
discourage too ready an association of art with civility. One history which this 
book has to tell is the history of a modern art which was offered and renewed 
in critical response to the hostile conditions of what passed for civilization in the 
twentieth century. If that critical impulse was at various times sapped, margi- 
nalized, accommodated or even bought off, this does not seem to us a good 
reason for denying or forgetting it - certainly not in the name of sensitivity, 
nor even in the name of the Postmodern. 



Introduction 7 

These are now the best and worst of times for modern art. What was once 
a marginal aspect of the culture of a few metropolitan centres in Western Europe 
has effectively achieved the status of the accepted and characteristic art of its 
time the world over. This is another of the histories which this book has to 
tell: the story of modern art's move from the margins of public notice to the 
centre of the cultural economy. After the defeat of Fascism in the Second World 
War, only those parts of the world which were organized according to the 
principles of state socialism officially resisted modern art. Even in such places 
it had subversive, almost mythic status as an index of freedom. In the ideological 
hall of mirrors which was the Cold War, an autonomous art was widely broadcast 
as metonymic of international capitalism, in the language of freedom versus 
totalitarianism. A certain 'Modernistic' representation of modern art, if not 
necessarily the creature itself, thus completed the trek from margin to centre; 
from outside to inside, from illegitimacy to acceptance. 

This acceptance has itself given rise to problems which a book such as this 
must attempt to negotiate. In becoming hegemonic, Modernism opened the way 
for a widespread critical reappraisal of its own principles and assumptions. 
Modernism had always had its Others, but in the West at least their subordinate 
status was generally assumed over a long period. During the final quarter of 
the century this assumption has been widely questioned. The notion of 'plu- 
ralism' has been associated with a loosening of the authority of Modernist 
judgements. 

That diversification of practice which is subsumed under the notion of 
Postmodernism has no doubt been largely animated by a spirit of inquiry. And 
yet it has also been accompanied by some reoccupation of positions identified 
as conservative in Modernist terms. In one of those paradoxical developments 
which seem to mark the recent period, the very success of an art which staked 
its claim on independence has appeared to justify a widespread scepticism as to 
the possibility of moral autonomy for art; or, to put the matter slightly 
differently, as to the possible survival of art as a morally independent cultural 
practice. This is difficult ground. At times it seems there is little to mark the 
distinction between, on the one hand, the criticism of an autonomy grown 
conformist and, on the other, the renewed demand that art serve ends promul- 
gated elsewhere in the social spectrum. The determined defenders of the 
autonomy of art were at least proof against one distinctive form of twentieth- 
century malaise: that species of soft totalitarianism which has a way of creeping 
to the fore when there is little that is culturally vivid to disqualify and to 
displace it. 

As the century draws to a close, and the critique of Modernism in art is 
matched by the collapse of much more widespread social ideologies - repre- 
sentatives of which were regularly numbered among Modernism's opponents - 
we are witness to a curious mixture of confusion and certainty. In attempting 
under these circumstances to review the historical narratives of art in theory, 
^^Jl^^^^ht ortthe one hand to resist ..the. ado^ 

for_c^fusion^ on the other to avoid that species of correctness which would 
require nothing so much as the abandonment of autonomy at all levels. 



8 Introduction 



Selection and organization 



We should make clear that while it has been our intention to raise the question 
of alternative priorities, we have not attempted to arbitrate between them, nor, 
in the contrast of views between theory as post hoc explanation and theory as 
determining intellectual context, have we meant to privilege one sense of theory 
at the expense of the other. This is not to claim that we are ourselves 
theoretically unprejudiced, however. We are as thoroughly inscribed in the 
indices of commitment as any of those whom we have presumed to represent. 
This inscription is not merely a matter of orientation with respect to the 
circumscribed history of art, but of an inscription within history writ large, and 
it has no doubt been a force in the composition of the book. 

Art in Theory is intended to represent the art theory of the twentieth century 
as we conceive it, and thus not primarily to represent the positions of individ- 
uals. So far as possible we have made our selection with the wider field in mind. 
That is to say, we have been more concerned to represent a body of ideas than 
to assemble a corpus of artistic authors, or to do full justice to specific careers. 
Indeed we have intended no form of a priori discrimination between authors. 
A text is a text whether the writer or speaker be a practising artist, a critic, a 
philosopher or a political figure. Though a number of art historians figure among 
those included, this is decidely not an anthology of art-historical work. We have 
excluded texts which are clearly retrospective, except where it can be said that 
the retrospect has served to enable or to prescribe a significant practical direction 
- as did various forms of classical revival in the period immediately following 
the First World War. 

Not all the texts we have included were written with art specifically in mind. 
On the other hand we would claim that each of them represents some aspect 
of the diverse intellectual materials from which modern art has been made. This 
claim also implies a limit. We have not meant to trespass far from the ground 
of high art and its attendant theories. We have not seen it as our business to 
engage directly with architecture or with design, though both were profoundly 
implicated with much theorization of art during the 1920s and 1930s. Nor have 
we been primarily concerned with the varieties of popular cultural forms, with 
films, television, advertisements and so forth, though these have lately been 
much theorized with a rigour previously reserved for accredited 'fine' art, often 
by writers who have taken the discipline of art history as a starting point. These 
limitations are imposed not out of any intentional spirit of conservatism, but 
out of conviction that for any manageable collection to emerge, its focus must 
be restricted. This restriction is signalled in our title. It is art we are concerned 
with, and the theory it is made of; not the culture it is made of, nor the theory 
of the culture. 

On the other hand, with the importance of context in mind, the anthology 
has been designed as a whole so as to encourage inquiry into the relations 
between artistic issues and historical changes. We have divided the material into 
eight chronological sections: four for the period from the turn of the century 



Introduction 9 

to the Second World War, and four for the period since. These overall sections 
contain the cross-currents of debate, indeed of outright conflict on occasion, as 
to the proper role and concerns of art. Each section is introduced with an essay 
outlining major practical developments and theoretical concerns during the 
relevant period and where appropriate relating these to the wider, principally 
political and economic, forces at work in the contemporary world. Within each 
of these main sections texts are then grouped under broadly thematic subhead- 
ings. Within each subheading the arrangement is generally chronological - the 
exceptions being where we have grouped a number of texts under a common 
author, or where we have meant to preserve a sequence of argument or a 
geographical connection. Each individual text is then provided with a brief 
introduction, specifying the original occasion of its publication and where 
appropriate explaining its connection to contemporary events and controversies. 
A given text may thus be read for its independent content, as a moment in the 
development of a specific body of argument, or as a possible instance of a larger 
tendency or body of concerns within a broad historical period. 

The practice of modern art has never been untheoretical or without principles, 
even when these latter have turned on the importance of spontaneity or of 
freedom of choice. We have not aimed to represent art in theory as a rational 
and ordered business, however. Though settlements occur in time they can often 
not be recognized as such until after their time has passed. Nor would we be 
wise to assume the pedagogic powers of history as ordering principles. It is part 
of the present meltdown that reason and history are themselves contested as the 
relevant criteria of intellectual commitments. There is a need, however, for the 
arguments of the past to be made present, in order that they can be learned 
from. Walter Benjamin once expressed the desire to produce a book which would 
be composed entirely of quotations. In a similar spirit, we have tried to refrain 
from prescriptive ordering and to be inclusive. But we cannot entirely dispense 
with the supplement: ordering principles are unavoidable if there is to be sense 
at all. It is within the considerable limits of editorial obligation that we have 
aimed to let the diverse histories of modern art, and of some of its opponents, 
speak for themselves. 



Charles Harrison 

Paul Wood 

March 1992 



Part I 

The Legacy of 
Symbolism 



I 

Introduction 



At the turn of the century, to think of modern art was to think of modern 
French art. This was not because all modern art was French, but rather because 
France was the acknowledged source of those critical concepts and practical 
distinctions to which artists of other countries referred when they intended to 
mark their own work as modern. The artistic culture of late-nineteenth-century 
France was rich and diverse. In the mid-century the authority of an academic 
tradition, already interrupted by revolution and complicated by the career 
of Jacques-Louis David, had been further challenged by the Realist work of 
Gustave Courbet and by the connection of that Realism to the revolutions of 
1848. Edouard Manet was no revolutionary, but his pursuit of Realist aims in 
the 1860s took effect in that palpable self-consciousness about the social forms 
of modernity on the one hand, and the practical means and conditions of 
representation on the other, which was subsequently to be defined as Modern- 
ism. And in the early 1870s - the time of the Franco-Prussian war and of the 
formation and suppression of the Paris Commune - those who were to be called 
the Impressionists converged on the project of a modern Naturalism. In the 
normal history of modern art the Impressionist movement is established as the 
prototype for avant-gardism in modern art. This status was achieved not as a 
consequence of explicit radicalism on the part of the artists involved, but rather 
because there were several of them, and because a conservative resistance rallied 
vociferously, though in the end ineffectually, against their project. 

Realism, Naturalism, modernity, avant-gardism; these concepts and the forms 
of nineteenth-century French art associated with them were to be substantial 
points of reference - positive or negative - for the artists and supporters of the 
early-twentieth-century movements. The relations between these concepts had 
been subject to various forms of transformation, however. Increasingly after the 
mid-1880s, the modern was a contested value. The issues at stake are revealed 
in the alternative conceptions of the Impressionist project and its legacy which 
were prevalent at the turn of the century. On the one hand it was seen as a 
continuing Realist tendency modernized by the adoption of a luminous technique 
(a view of Impressionism broadly consistent with the work of Camille Pissarro); 
on the other it was associated with intensification of the autonomous effects of 
art, and thus seen as tending towards abstraction. (A view of Claude Monet's 



14 The Legacy of Symbolism 

work along these lines had a decisive effect on the Russian Wassily Kandinsky, 
according to the latter's own testimony.) The changing interpretations to which 
Paul Cezanne's work was subject in the years between 1885 and 1910 testify to 
the continuing problems experienced in characterizing his 'Post-Impressionism', 
as Roger Fry was to term it in the latter year. 

The view of Impressionism as tending towards abstraction is consistent with 
the position of the Symbolists, in whose regard the once-binding association 
between Realism and avant-gardism was transformed into a relationship of 
virtual antithesis. Symbolism was the avant-garde position of the later 1880s 
and 1890s. The continuing force of its aesthetic theory can be recognized in 
twentieth-century deliberations on modern art in France and elsewhere, in the 
form of a deep and prevalent strain of idealism. The importance of this theory 
lay in its welding together of a claim for the autonomy of language and art as 
symbol systems, with a claim for the value of aesthetic experience and artistic 
insight. In Symbolist theory the meaning of a painting is not in principle any 
more firmly secured by its resemblance to features of the real world than the 
meaning of a poem is secured by some independent causal connection between 
its various words and the objects those words happen to signify. In each case, 
it is the internal relations between the parts that secures the possibility of 
meaning and effect for the whole. Such ideas are nowadays the commonplaces 
of linguistic and semantic theory. But they remained controversial from the end 
of the nineteenth century until late into the twentieth. Wherever the effect of 
these ideas was felt on thought about the arts during this period, the matter of 
their reception or rejection served more decisively than any other single factor 
to mark the division between moderns and conservatives. 

To this understanding of the autonomy of form, the Symbolists joined a 
critique of the value of objective perception as a means to knowledge of reality, 
asserting instead the priority of a disinterested but subjective intuition. Thus 
Paul Gauguin, who once exhibited with the Impressionists, is to be found at 
the turn of the century defending himself against criticism of the 'abstraction' 
of his painting with the assertion that it is 'not a material structure', but rather 
a 'vision' interpreted 'in an appropriate decor' (Ia3). The identification of art 
with intuition was to be given a philosophical exposition in the aesthetics of 
Benedetto Croce (Ib14), while considerable support for the Symbolists' emphasis 
on the significance of the 'inner life' was to come from work in the new field 
of psychoanalysis. Freud was working in Paris in the late 1880s and his 
Interpretation of Dreams was published in 1900 (see Ia4). 

It remained only to re-establish the Romantic claim that artists are distin- 
guished as such by the relative vividness of their inner life and the relative 
strength of their intuitions. The 'abstractions' of the artist could then be 
advanced as the significant forms of an underlying and enduring reality, their 
critical potential all the greater for their emancipation from the merely apparent 
and contingent realities of the physical and social world (see IaI). Adoption of 
such ideas inevitably entailed disparagement of Naturalist and Realist techniques 
for their supposed subservience to the merely superficial. Thus Cezanne's 
injunction to Emile Bernard to 'treat nature by means of the cylinder, the sphere, 



I Introduction 15 

the cone' (Ia6) was seized on not as an instruction in basic modelling, but as 
a sign that the older painter's enterprise involved seeing through the accidental 
forms of nature to an underlying world of geometrical constants. 

In fact, as implied earlier, Cezanne's work resists explanation in terms of an 
antithesis between Naturalism and Symbolism. Rather, it serves as demonstra- 
tion that a commitment to nature as the origin of sensation can be maintained 
in face of a commitment to the decorative autonomy of the painted surface, if 
by no means with ease, then certainly with critically remarkable results. 

Cezanne's rigour was exceptional, however, and the lessons of his painting 
were not easily learned. It was widely assumed among the avant-garde factions 
of the early twentieth century that attention to the specific details of the natural 
world was inconsistent with fulfilment of the expressive potential of art. As the 
form of the modern arts which was most clearly both expressive and abstract - 
which is to say free from the requirements of description - music came to be 
seen as the type of all the others. Around the turn of the century, musical 
theories of expression and composition were adopted as means to the advance- 
ment of architecture and painting. (Hence, in large part, the importance of 
Richard Wagner and of his theories to the artists of the avant-garde at the turn 
of the century.) August Endell and Kandinsky were among those for whom the 
apparently 'universal' expressiveness of music held out the possibility of an 
abstract visual art, its validity secured not by reference to the appearances of 
the material world, but rather by the supposed basicness of certain formal 
principles on the one hand and by the promptings of 'inner necessity' on the 
other (iBl and IB7-8). 

In Naturalist theories the effect of the work of art was supposed to be traceable 
back into the world. That it had its origin in that world - in some direct 
experience of it - was the guarantee of the work's authenticity. In forms of 
theory subject to the gravitational pull of Symbolism, on the other hand, the 
effects of art were signs of the authenticity of an inner life; they were 
understood, that is to say, as originating in the mind or soul of the artist. There 
were some clear implications of this position. With the abandonment of natur- 
alistic correspondence as a criterion, a premium was placed on the strength and 
authenticity of individual responses and feelings. A requirement of vividness of 
expression tended to supplant the traditional requirement of accuracy of de- 
scription. 'What I am after, above all, is expression,' Henri Matisse wrote in 
1908, and he made it quite clear that he saw pursuit of the ends of expression 
as justifying anv liberties he might take with the appearances of people or objects 
(IB5). 

There was a further important corollary to the increasing relaxation of the 
requirements of Naturalism, This development in modern artistic theory coin- 
cided in the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries with a rapid growth 
of anthropological study and collection, as scholars and curators sought to make 
sense of the various appropriations of empire. For those already engaged with 
modern art, the association of formal expressiveness with authenticity led to 
substantial revaluation of the generally non-naturalistic images produced by 
tribal cultures. Recognition of the formal inventiveness - the originality - of 



16 The Legacy of Symbolism 

such images involved a reconsideration of their supposed primitivism. Or rather, 
the concept of the primitive was subject during the period in question to a 
virtual reversal of its traditional critical function. Formerly a term of disparage- 
ment, it came to be used as a measure of vitality, of authenticity and of 
originality. Following the example of Gauguin, modern artists now claimed 
kinship with their supposedly unsophisticated counterparts in pursuit of the 
authentic grounds of feeling and expression hidden behind the veil of appear- 
ances. By the first decade of the century, conviction of the authentic expressive 
power of so-called primitive art had become an item of avant-garde faith, 
proclaimed by artists and critics in France, Germany, Russia and England (see, 
for instance, Ia3, IB9-11, 13, 15-16). Maintenance of this faith undoubtedly 
involved a degree of idealization and abstraction of the art of the colonized 
cultures, which is to say that those involved in appreciation of the objects in 
question generally paid scant regard to the conditions of their production. On 
the other hand it can be said that this appreciation entailed a considerable 
questioning of those measures of skill and sophistication by which the relative 
authority of European art had previously been established. One important 
consequence of such theoretical work as Wilhelm Worringer's was that it served 
to revise the grounds on which comparisons might be made between the art 
forms of different cultures and epochs (Ib4). 

The critical revaluation of the European tradition was in general an important 
aspect of early twentieth-century avant-gardism. The supporters of the modern 
movements reviewed the art of the past in the light of their present enthusiasms, 
recasting the terms in which it had previously been conceptualized and valued. 
Thus, for example, the understanding of 'classicism' was divorced by Maurice 
Denis and Roger Fry from its traditional association with a canon of literary 
and mythologizing subjects and reinterpreted in furtherance of the perceived 
commitments of the modern: on the one hand to signify the concentration of 
original feeling in visual form, and on the other to suggest that pursuit of such 
concentration had been the persistent preoccupation of the Western tradition - 
indeed, that it was the true function of the art of all ages and periods. The 
defence of a historically-specific modern movement thus took on the character 
of a universalizing aesthetic system (see Ib6, 15 and 16). 






IA 

Classicism and Originality 



1 Teodor de Wyzewa (1862-1914) 'Wagnerian Painting' 

Wyzewa was Polish by birth but worked in Paris as a leading critic and theorist of the 
Symbolist movement, close to Mallarme. His essay anticipates the development of 
abstract art and of later formalist theories. Among the typically Symbolist themes which 
will recur in later Modernist theory are the idea that art is the means of access to 'the 
higher reality of a disinterested life', and the (Wagnerian) belief in a possible fusion of 
the various arts. Published as 1'Art wagnerien: la peinture', in No$ Maitres, Paris, 1895, 
pp. 11-26, based on an earlier version printed in May 1886 in La revue wagnerienne, 
which the author helped to edit. The present version is translated and edited from the 
1895 text by Richard Hobbs and Paul Smith. 

I 

[. . .] The world we live in, which we declare real, is purely a creation of our 
soul. The mind cannot go outside itself; and the things it believes to be outside 
it are only its ideas. To see, to hear, is to create appearances within oneself, 
thus to create Life. But the baneful habit of creating the same things has made 
us lose the joyful awareness of our own creative power; we thought real the 
dreams we gave birth to, and also this inner self, limited by objects and subject 
to them, that we had conceived. 

Consequently, we have been the slaves of the world, and the sight of this 
world, where we engaged our interests, has since ceased to give us pleasure. 
And the Life which we had created - created in order to give us the joy of 
creating - has lost its original character. It is necessary therefore to recreate it; 
one must build, over and above this world of defiled, habitual appearances, the 
holy world of a better life: better, because we can make it intentionally, and 
know that we make it. This is the very business of Art. 

But from where will the artist take the elements of this higher life? He can 
find them nowhere unless in our normal life, in what we call Reality. This is 
to say that the artist, and those to whom he wants to communicate the life that 
he creates, cannot, as a result of what their minds normally do, erect a living 
work of art in their souls, unless it presents itself to them under the very 
conditions in which they have always perceived life. 



18 The Legacy of Symbolism 

And so, this explains the necessity of realism in art; not a realism which 
transcribes the vain appearances that we think real, with no other end, but an 
artistic realism, which tears these appearances from the false reality of interest 
where we perceive them, in order to transport them into the higher reality of 
a disinterested life. We see around us trees, animals, men, and we assume they 
are living; but, seen in this way, they are only vain shadows which drape the 
shifting decor of our vision. They will only live when the artist, in whose special 
soul they have a more intense reality, inspires them with this higher life - 
recreates them before us. 

* * * 

... as minds become more refined, Art requires increasingly more diverse 
methods than those operative in reality to suggest the same life. Thus, a polychrome 
statue resembles the models it has reproduced too much in its material. [ . . . ] 

And so again, a drama, when read, will appear more alive to delicate souls 
than the same drama played in a theatre by living actors. In order to preserve the 
feelings of art, we have an ever more urgent need that the impressions of life 
should be given us, in the life of art, by means other than those of real life. 

Painting responds to this need. The means it employs to suggest sensations 
to us artistically differ entirely from the means employed by reality. For the 
colours and lines in a painting are not reproductions of the quite different lines 
and colours which are in reality; they are only conventional signs which have 
become equivalent to what they signify as the result of an association between 
the images. But they are just as different, finally, from real colours and lines 
as a word differs from a thought, or a musical note from the emotion it suggests. 

* * * 

A few outstanding masters, their eyes endowed with an almost pathological 
sensitivity, accustomed artists to seeing objects surrounded by the air that bathed 
them. From that moment, the vocabulary of painting became modified; new 
signs were introduced which created new sensations [ . . . ] . 

II 

Painting, Literature and Music each suggest just one mode of life. But life exists 
in the intimate union of these three modes. Soon, their art must have appeared 
to painters, as it did to writers, to be insufficient to create the whole life which 
they conceived. Therefore, long ago they wanted to expand the possibilities of 
their art, to employ it to reconstitute diverse forms of life. For example, writers 
noticed that words, over and above their precise conceptual meaning, had 
assumed special resonances for the ear, and that syllables had become musical 
tones, as had the rhythms of the sentence. Then, they attempted a new art: 
poetry. They employed words no longer for their conceptual value, but as 
sonorous syllables evoking emotion in the soul by means of their harmonious 
alliance. 

The same need to translate the life of the emotions with the means of their 
art very quickly drove painters to go beyond the limits of reproducing their 
sensations in a wholly realistic way. 



Ia Classicism and Originality 19 

And a new kind of painting was attempted by them, one which a happy 
agreement of circumstances made possible. This is to say that colours and lines 
themselves, like words, had also, through familiarity, assumed for souls an 
emotional value independent of the objects they represented. We had always 
seen a certain facial expression, a certain colour or certain contours accompany 
the objects which inspired us with such-and-such an emotion. And behold, these 
colours, these contours and these expressions, are linked with these emotions 
in our soul; they have become not just signs of our visual sensations, but signs 
of our emotions also; they have become, by the accident of this connection, 
emotional signs, like the syllables of poetry or musical notes. And so, certain 
painters were able to leave behind the original purpose of Art, which was to 
suggest the precise sensations of sight. They employed colours and lines for 
purely symphonic compositional ends, with no regard for the direct depiction 
of a visual object. And nowadays, colours and lines - the means of painting - 
can be used in two quite different kinds of painting: the one sensuous and 
descriptive which recreates exactly how objects look; the other emotional and 
musical, neglectful of treating the objects these colours and lines represent, 
using them only as signs of emotion, marrying them in such a way as to produce 
in us, by their free play, a complete impression comparable to that of a 
symphony, f . . . ] 

Therefore, emotional painting, as well as descriptive painting, has a legitimate 
right to exist, and possesses the value of an art which is equally precious. [ . . . ] 
Its first master was the poetic Leonardo da Vinci. He gave us the emotion of 
lascivious terror through the mystery of perverse and supernatural expressions. 
Later, . . . Peter Paul Rubens created the most intense symphonies of colour. 
[ . . . ] Whereas with Rembrandt, [ . . . ] [we find] a supernatural play of chia- 
roscuro which creates an emotion which is at once more troubled and more 
restrained. Afterwards, Watteau translated elegant melancholy: he devoted the 
delightful grace of his drawings to light-hearted and sweet poems which seem 
to recall certain andante movements in Mozart's quartets. And in turn, Delacroix 
was the lyricist of violent passions, a little vulgar in their romanticism. 

All these masters have proved that painting could equally well be descriptive 
of real sensations, or suggestive of real emotions. Only, they have intuited that 
these two possibilities demanded two quite different kinds of art, and that they 
had to choose one or the other, following their natural inclinations. Today, the 
necessity of making a choice is even more vital. [. . .] 

Ill 

[ . . . ] With admirable candour and the prestigiousness of an incomparable visual 
subtlety, M. Monet completes the work of two sincere and powerful masters, 
M. Manet and M. Cezanne, and analyses the mobile play of nuances of light. 
[... .] We have seen the most elusive secrets of movement and of life captured 
by M. Degas. However, emotional painting elaborates and modifies its symphonic 
procedures under a flood of more complex emotions. M. Gustave Moreau . . . 
delights in the harmonious arrangement of scintillating gems. M. Odilon Redon, 



20 The Legacy of Symbolism 

in bizarre landscapes, attempts a new kind of creation of desolate terror. [. . .] 
And, isolated from these painters as from others, M. Renoir, the greatest genius, 
the only real genius among them, expresses sincerely the sweet, ingenuous 
dreams of a childlike soul, in interplays of colour as delightful as songs or 
caresses. He is alone today in gaining inspiration only from himself, alone in 
having at the bottom of his heart a strong enough voice that the noises of the 
outside world do not prevent him from hearing it. 

And so, while the banality of fashionable formulas wafts out of the Salons, 
elsewhere there is a splendid blossoming of works by these masters. [ . . . ] And 
yet, all too soon, the engulfing tide of democracy will reach their refuges, and 
the sons of these artists . . . will renounce the vain cares of an art already without 
clients. The day is coming when finally the democratic and egalitarian art of 
universal suffrage will dominate. 

2 Paul Signac (1863-1935) from Eugene Delacroix to 
Neo-Impressionism 

The author was a painter closely involved with the Neo-tmpressionist or Divisionist 
tendency. His book was of particular importance in formulating approaches to colour 
and to expression developed among late-nineteenth-century French painters and in 
transmitting a body of theory to a subsequent generation. His concept of the practice 
of art as knowledge employed in the service of sensation was to be taken up by the 
Fauves. Originally published as D'Eugene De/acro/x au neo-impressionisme, Edition de 
la Revue Blanche, Paris, June 1899. The present extracts are translated from pp. 74-5, 
89-94 and 137-8 of the new edition, ed. F. Cachin, Paris, 1964. 

For half a century Delacroix tried hard to achieve more brightness and lumi- 
nosity, thereby displaying to the colourists who would succeed him the path to 
follow and the goal to attain. He still left them much to do, but thanks to his 
contribution and his teaching, their task was made easier. 

He proved to them all the advantages of a sound technique, of planning and 
logic, not hindering the passion for painting but strengthening it. 

He gave them the secret of the laws governing colour: the harmony of 
similarities, the analogy of opposites. 

He showed them how a unified and dull colour scheme is inferior to the 
colour produced by the vibrations of different combinations of elements. 

He secured for them the resources of optical blending, which gives rise to 
new colours. 

He advised them to banish dark, dull and drab colours as much as possible. 

He taught them that it is possible to modify and reduce a colour without 
tarnishing it with mixtures on the palette. 

He showed them the moral influence of colour which could contribute to the 
effect of the painting; he initiated them into the aesthetic language of colours 
and tones. 

He incited them to dare everything, never to fear that their harmonies might 
be too colourful. 




Ia Classicism and Originality 21 

The powerful creator is equally the great educator; his teaching is as precious 
as his work. 

Nevertheless it must be acknowledged that the paintings of Delacroix, despite 
his efforts and his knowledge, are not as light nor as coloured as the paintings 
of his followers. The Entrance of the Crusaders appears dark beside The Luncheon 
of the Boating Party by Renoir and Circus by Seurat. Delacroix seized the 
Romantic palette, overloaded with colours, some brilliant, others, too numerous, 
earthy and dark; everything it could give him. 

He could not have had a more perfect instrument to suit his ideal. In order 
to create this instrument, he had only to exclude from his palette the darker 
colours which were a useless encumbrance. He did violence to them in order 
to extract from them some brightness, but he never dreamt of painting only 
with the pure and virtual colours of the prism. 

This progress had to be made by another generation: that of the Impression- 
ists. 

Everything is both connected to and develops from its own time: first one 
complicates, then one simplifies. If the Impressionists simplified the palette, if 
they achieved greater colour and luminosity, it is thanks to the investigations 
of the Romantic master and his struggles with the complicated palette. 
* * * 

It was in 1886, at the last of the exhibitions of the Impressionist group, that 
works appeared for the first time that were painted solely with pure, separated 
and balanced colours, mixing optically according to a rational method. 

Georges Seurat, who instigated this step forward, exhibited there the first 
separated painting. A Sunday on the Grande-Jatte was a decisive canvas which 
testified to the very rare qualities of the painter; grouped around him were 
Camille Pissarro, his son Lucien Pissarro and Paul Signac, who also exhibited 
works painted in a more or less similar technique. 

The unexpected vividness and harmony of these innovators' paintings was 
immediately noticed, if not exactly welcomed. These qualities were thanks to 
the fundamental principles of separation. Since then, this technique has not 
stopped developing, thanks to the research and contributions of Henri-Edmond 
Cross, Albert Dubois-Pillet, Maximilien Luce, Hippolyte Petitjean, Theo van 
Rysselberghe, Henry van de Velde and others; this is in spite of cruel deaths, 
of attacks and desertions. [. . .] 

If these painters, who would be better described by the epithet Chromo-Lumi- 
naristes, adopted the name Neo-Impressionists, this was not to court success (the 
Impressionists were still in full flight), but to pay homage to the efforts of their 
precursors, and to emphasize in spite of the differences, the common aim: light 
and colour. It is in this sense that the title Neo~Impressionist must be understood, 
for the technique used by these painters is not at all impressionistic; to the 
extent that that of their precursors was based on instinct and the instantaneous, 
theirs was by contrast based on reflection and the permanent. 

The Neo-Impressionists, like the Impressionists, only had pure colours on 
their palette. But they totally repudiated any mixing of colours on the palette, 
except, of course, the mixing of colours which were contiguous in the chromatic 



22 The Legacy of Symbolism 

circle. These, shaded off between each other and lightened with white, tend to 
reinstate the various colours of the solar spectrum and all their tones. An orange 
mixed with a yellow and a red, a violet shading into red and blue, a green 
passing from blue to yellow, are, together with white, the only elements they 
used. But, by the optical blending of these pure colours, and by varying their 
proportions, they obtained an infinite quantity of colours, from the most intense 
to the most grey. 

They not only banished from their palettes any mixed colours, they also 
avoided spoiling the purity of their colours by putting contrary ones together 
on a canvas. Every touch made purely on the palette remains pure on the canvas. 

As they used colours prepared with more brilliant powders, and more sump- 
tuous materials, these painters could claim that their luminosity and coloration 
surpassed that of the Impressionists, who had darkened and spoiled the pure 
colours of the simplified palette. 

It is not enough for the technique of separation to assure, by the mixture of 
pure optical elements, a maximum of luminosity and coloration; it guarantees 
the integral harmony of the work by the proportion and balance of these 
elements, depending on the rules of contrast, shading and radiance. 

These rules, which the Impressionists observed infrequently and instinctively, 
are always rigorously applied by the Neo-Impressionists. It is a precise and 
scientific method, which does not enfeeble sensation, but guides and protects it. 

It would seem that the first question confronting the painter in front of a blank 
canvas is the decision as to which curves and patterns will divide the surface, 
which colours and tones should cover it. Quite an infrequent worry at a time 
when most paintings are instantaneous photographs or useless illustrations. 

To reproach the Impressionists for having neglected these concerns would be 
puerile, for their obvious plan was to seize the patterns and harmonies of nature, 
as they presented themselves, without any concern for order and combination. 
'The Impressionist sits on the bank of a river,' said their critic Theodore Duret, 
'and paints that which he sees before him.' They proved that, in this way, one 
could create marvels. 

The Neo-Impressionist, following the advice of Delacroix, will not begin a 
canvas without having finalized the composition. Guided by tradition and by 
science, he will harmonize the composition with his idea; that is to say, he will 
adapt the lines (directions and angles), the light and dark (tones), the colours 
(pigments) to the character he wants. The dominance of the lines would be 
horizontal for calm, ascending for joy and descending for sadness, with all the 
intermediate lines used to depict all the other sensations in their infinite variety. 
A polychromatic interplay, no less expressive and diverse, joins with this linear 
interplay: corresponding to the ascending lines are warm colours and clear tones; 
with the descending lines, cold colours and dark tones predominate; a more or less 
perfect balance of warm and cold colours, of pale and intense tones is added to the 
calm of the horizontal lines. Thus submitting colour and line to the emotion he 
felt and wants to translate, the painter does the work of the poet, of the creator. 

In a general way, it is possible to admit that a Neo-Impressionist work is 
more harmonious than an Impressionist one. Firstly, thanks to the constant 



Ia Classicism and Originality 23 

observation of contrast, the harmony of detail in it is more precise. Secondly 
thanks to the rational composition and to the aesthetic language of the colours, 
it leads to a harmony of the whole and a moral harmony with which the 
Impressionist work is deliberately unconcerned. 

# * # 

It is perhaps easy to paint more luminously than the Neo-Impressionists, but 
you would lose colour; you can have more colour, but at the cost of darkening. 
Their colour is located in the middle of the radius of the chromatic circle which 
goes from the centre - white - to the circumference - black. This location 
assures it the maximum saturation of power and beauty. A time will come when 
one discovers such a combination either from using a better type of colour than 
those which the painter has now, or from using better substances, or new 
processes like the direct application of light rays on sensitized surfaces; but it 
must be admitted that it was the Neo-Impressionists who knew how to exploit 
the current resources, rendering them at once more luminous and more coloured. 
Next to one of their paintings, and despite the criticisms which they still 
encounter, any painting, however great its artistic qualities, will appear dark or 
lacking in colour. It must be understood that we do not want a painter's talent 
to depend on how much light and colour there is in his paintings; we know 
that with white and black one can create masterpieces and one can paint with 
colour and light without merit. But if this research into colour and light is not 
the whole of art, is it not at least one of the most important parts? Is he not 
an artist who endeavours to create unity in the variety of rhythms of pigments 
and tones, and who employs his knowledge in the service of his sensations? 

Remembering the phrase of Delacroix: 'Cowardly painting is the painting of 
a coward', the Neo-Impressionists could be proud of their austere and simple 
painting. And if it is passion that makes artists, rather than technique, they can 
be confident: they have the fertile passion of light, of colour and of harmony. 

In any case, they will not have repeated that which had been done before; 
they will have the risky honour of having produced a new way, of expressing 
a personal ideal. 

They can develop, but always on the bases of purity and of contrast; they 
knew the importance and charm of these too well ever to renounce them. 
Gradually freed from the hindrances of their beginnings, the technique of 
separation, which permitted them to express their dreams in colour, became 
more supple and advanced, promising even more fertile resources. 

And if there is no artist among them whose genius allows him to develop 
this technique further, at least they have simplified his task. The triumphant 
colourist has only to appear: his palette has been prepared for him. 



3 Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) Letter to Fontainas 

Written from Tahiti in March 1899, in response to published criticism by Andre Fontainas 
of Gauguin's painting Whence do we come? What are we? Where are we going? Fontainas 
had objected that 'abstractions are not communicated through concrete images unless, 



24 The Legacy of Symbolism 

in the artist's own mind, they have already taken shape in some natural allegory which 
gives them life'. Original published in A. Fontainas intra., Lettres de Paul Gauguin a Andre 
Fontainas, Paris, 1921. The present translation is taken from J. Rewald, Paul Gauguin: 
Letters to Ambroise Vollard and Andre Fontainas, San Francisco, 1943, pp. 21-4. 

Un grand sommeil noir 
Tombe sur ma vie 
Dormez, tout espoir 
Dormez, toute envie. 

Verlaine 



Monsieur Fontainas, 

In the January number of the Mercure de France, you have two interesting 
articles, 'Rembrandt' and The Vollard Gallery.' In the latter you mention me. 
In spite of your dislike you have tried to make an honest study of the art or 
rather the work of a painter who has no emotional effect upon you. A rare 
phenomenon among critics. 

I have always [thought] that it was the duty of a painter never to answer 
criticisms, even hostile ones - especially hostile ones; nor flattering ones, either, 
because those are often dictated by friendship. 

This time, without departing from my habitual reserve, I have an irresistible 
desire to write to you, a caprice if you will, and - like all emotional people - 
I am not good at resisting. Since this is merely a personal letter it is not a real 
answer but simply a chat on art; your article prompts and evokes it. 

We painters, we who are condemned to penury, accept the material difficulties 
of life without complaining, but we suffer from them insofar as they constitute 
a hindrance to work. How much time we lose in seeking our daily bread! The 
most menial tasks, dilapidated studios, and a thousand other obstacles. All these 
create despondency, followed by impotence, rage, violence. Such things do not 
concern you at all, I mention them only to convince both of us that you have 
good reason to point out numerous defects, violence, monotony of tone, clashing 
colors, etc. Yes, all these probably exist, do exist. Sometimes however they are 
intentional. Are not these repetitions of tones, these monotonous color harmonies 
(in the musical sense) analogous to oriental chants sung in a shrill voice, to the 
accompaniment of pulsating notes which intensify them by contrast? Beethoven 
uses them frequently (as I understand it) in the 'Sonata Pathetique,' for example. 
Delacroix too with his repeated harmonies of brown and dull violet, a sombre 
cloak suggesting tragedy. You often go to the Louvre; with what I have said in 
mind, look closely at Cimabue. 

Think also of the musical role color will henceforth play in modern painting. 
Color, which is vibration just as music is, is able to attain what is most universal 
yet at the same time most elusive in nature: its inner force. 

Here near my cabin, in complete silence, amid the intoxicating perfumes of 
nature, I dream of violent harmonies. A delight enhanced by I know not what 
sacred horror I divine in the infinite. An aroma of long-vanished joy that I 
breathe in the present. Animal figures rigid as statues, with something inde- 



Ia Classicism and Originality 25 

scribably solemn and religious in the rhythm of their pose, in their strange 
immobility. In eyes that dream, the troubled surface of an unfathomable enigma. 

Night is here. All is at rest. My eyes close in order to see without actually 
understanding the dream that flees before me in infinite space; and I experience 
the languorous sensation produced by the mournful procession of my hopes. 

In praise of certain pictures that I considered unimportant you exclaim: 'if 
only Gauguin were always like that!' But I don't want to be always like that. 

'In the large panel that Gauguin exhibits there is nothing that explains the 
meaning of the allegory.' Yes, there is: my dream is intangible, it comprises no 
allegory; as Mailarme said, 'It is a musical poem, it needs no libretto.' Conse- 
quently the essence of a work, unsubstantial and out of reach, consists precisely 
of 'that which is not expressed; it flows by implication from the lines without 
color or words; it is not a material structure.' 

Standing before one of my pictures of Tahiti, Mailarme also remarked: 'It is 
amazing that one can put so much mystery in so much brilliance.' 

To go back to the panel: the idol is there not as a literary symbol but as a 
statue, yet perhaps less of a statue than the animal figures, less animal also, 
combining my dream before my cabin with all nature, dominating our primitive 
soul, the unearthly consolation of our sufferings to the extent that they are 
vague and incomprehensible before the mystery of our origin and of our future. 

And all this sings with sadness in my soul and in my design while I paint 
and dream at the same time with no tangible allegory within my reach - due 
perhaps to a lack of literary education. 

Awakening with my work finished, I ask myself: 'Whence do we come? What 
are we? Where are we going?' A thought which has no longer anything to do 
with the canvas, expressed in words quite apart on the wall which surrounds 
it. Not a title but a signature. 

You see, although I understand very well the value of words - abstract and 
concrete - in the dictionary, I no longer grasp them in painting. I have tried 
to interpret my vision in an appropriate decor without recourse to literary means 
and with all the simplicity the medium permits: a difficult job. You may say 
that I have failed, but do not reproach me for having tried, nor should you 
advise me to change my goal, to dally with other ideas already accepted, 
consecrated. Puvis de Chavannes is the perfect example. Of course Puvis 
overwhelms me with his talent and experience, which I lack; I admire him as 
much as you do and more, but for entirely different reasons (and - don't be 
annoyed - with more understanding). Each of us belongs to his own period. 

The government is right not to give me an order for a decoration for a public 
building which might clash with the ideas of the majority, and it would be even 
more reprehensible for me to accept it, since I should have no alternative but 
to cheat or lie to myself. 

At my exhibition at Durand Ruel's [1893] a young man who didn't understand 
my pictures asked Degas to explain them to him. Smiling, he recited a fable 
by La Fontaine. 'You see,' he said, 'Gauguin is the thin wolf without the collar' 
[that is, he prefers liberty with starvation to servitude with abundance - John 
Rewald]. 



26 The Legacy of Symbolism 

After fifteen years of struggle we are beginning to free ourselves from the 
influence of the Academy, from all this confusion of formulas apart from which 
there has been no hope of salvation, honor, or money: drawing, color compo- 
sition, sincerity in the presence of nature, and so on. Only yesterday some 
mathematician [Charles Henry] tried to prove to us that we should use un- 
changeable light and color. 

Now the danger is past. Yes, we are free, and yet I still see another danger 
flickering on the horizon; I want to discuss it with you. This long and boring 
letter has been written with only that in view. Criticism of today, when it is 
serious, intelligent, full of good intentions, tends to impose on us a method of 
thinking and dreaming which might become another bondage. Preoccupied with 
what concerns it particularly, its own field, literature, it will lose sight of what 
concerns us, painting. If that is true, I shall be impertinent enough to quote 
Mallarme: 4 A critic is someone who meddles with something that is none of his 
business.* 

In his memory will you permit me to offer you this sketch of him, hastily 
dashed off, a vague recollection of a beautiful and beloved face, radiant, even 
in the shadows. Not a gift but an appeal for the indulgence I need for my 
foolishness and violence. 



4 Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) from 'On Dreams' 

Freud was the founder of psychoanalysis, and his theories were instrumental in forming 
modern concepts of human nature and human motivation. His writings on dreams and 
on the unconscious changed traditional ideas about the origins of visual imagery and 
added a new dimension to the problems of its interpretation. The essay from which the 
present extracts are taken was first published in Grenzfragen des Nerven- undSeelen- 
/ebens, Wiesbaden, 1901, as a summary of his longer work The Interpretation of 
Dreams, published in 1900. The present translation is taken from J. Strachey (ed), The 
Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, London, 
1953-74. 



VI 

It is the process of displacement which is chiefly responsible for our being 
unable to discover or recognize the dream-thoughts in the dream-content, unless 
we understand the reason for their distortion. Nevertheless, the dream-thoughts 
are also submitted to another and milder sort of transformation, which leads to 
our discovering a new achievement on the part of the dream-work - one, 
however, which is easily intelligible. The dream-thoughts which we first come 
across as we proceed with our analysis often strike us by the unusual form in 
which they are expressed; they are not clothed in the prosaic language usually 
employed by our thoughts, but are on the contrary represented symbolically by 
means of similes and metaphors, in images resembling those of poetic speech. 
There is no difficulty in accounting for the constraint imposed upon the form 



Ia Classicism and Originality 27 

in which the dream-thoughts are expressed. The manifest content of dreams 
consists for the most part in pictorial situations; and the dream-thoughts 
must accordingly be submitted in the first place to a treatment which will make 
them suitable for a representation of this kind. If we imagine ourselves faced 
by the problem of representing the arguments in a political leading article or 
the speeches of counsel before a court of law in a series of pictures, we shall 
easily understand the modifications which must necessarily be carried out by 
the dream-work owing to considerations of representability in the content of the 
dream. 

The psychical material of the dream-thoughts habitually includes recollections 
of impressive experiences - not infrequently dating back to early childhood - 
which are thus themselves perceived as a rule as situations having a visual 
subject-matter. Wherever the possibility arises, this portion of the dream- 
thoughts exercises a determining influence upon the form taken by the content 
of the dream; it constitutes, as it were, a nucleus of crystallization, attracting 
the material of the dream-thoughts to itself and thus affecting their distribution. 
The situation in a dream is often nothing other than a modified repetition, 
complicated by interpolations, of an impressive experience of this kind; on the 
other hand, faithful and straightforward reproductions of real scenes only rarely 
appear in dreams. 

The content of dreams, however, does not consist entirely of situations, but 
also includes disconnected fragments of visual images, speeches and even bits 
of unmodified thoughts. It may therefore perhaps be of interest to enumerate 
very briefly the modes of representation available to the dream-work for 
reproducing the dream-thoughts in the peculiar form of expression necessary in 
dreams. 

The dream-thoughts which we arrive at by means of analysis reveal themselves 
as a psychical complex of the most intricate possible structure. Its portions stand 
in the most manifold logical relations to one another: they represent foreground 
and background, conditions, digressions and illustrations, chains of evidence and 
counter-arguments. Each train of thought is almost invariably accompanied by 
its contradictory counterpart. This material lacks none of the characteristics that 
are familiar to us from our waking thinking. If now all of this is to be turned 
into a dream, the psychical material will be submitted to a pressure which will 
condense it greatly, to an internal fragmentation and displacement which will, 
as it were, create new surfaces, and to a selective operation in favour of those 
portions of it which are the most appropriate for the construction of situations. 
If we take into account the genesis of the material, a process of this sort deserves 
to be described as a 'regression'. In the course of this transformation, however, 
the logical links which have hitherto held the psychical material together are 
lost. It is only, as it were, the substantive content of the dream-thoughts that 
the dream-work takes over and manipulates. The restoration of the connections 
which the dream-work has destroyed is a task which has to be performed by 
the work of analysis. 

The modes of expression open to a dream may therefore be qualified as meagre 
by comparison with those of our intellectual speech; nevertheless a dream need 



28 The Legacy of Symbolism 

not wholly abandon the possibility of reproducing the logical relations present 
in the dream-thoughts. On the contrary, it succeeds often enough in replacing 
them by formal characteristics in its own texture. 

In the first place, dreams take into account the connection which undeniably 
exists between all the portions of the dream-thoughts by combining the whole 
material into a single situation. They reproduce logical connection by approxima- 
tion in time and space, just as a painter will represent all the poets in a single 
group in a picture of Parnassus. It is true that they were never in fact assembled 
on a single mountain-top; but they certainly form a conceptual group. Dreams 
carry this method of reproduction down to details; and often when they show 
us two elements in the dream-content close together, this indicates that there 
is some specially intimate connection between what correspond to them among 
the dream-thoughts. [ . . . ] 



VII 

We have not yet come to the end of our consideration of the dream-work. In 
addition to condensation, displacement and pictorial arrangement of the psychi- 
cal material, we are obliged to assign it yet another activity, though this is not 
to be found in operation in every dream. I shall not deal exhaustively with this 
part of the dream-work, and will therefore merely remark that the easiest way 
of forming an idea of its nature is to suppose - though the supposition probably 
does not meet the facts - that it only comes into operation AFTER the dream-content 
has already been constructed. Its function would then consist in arranging the 
constituents of the dream in such a way that they form an approximately 
connected whole, a dream-composition. In this way the dream is given a kind 
of facade (though this does not, it is true, hide its content at every point), and 
thus receives a first, preliminary interpretation, which is supported by interpo- 
lations and slight modifications. Incidentally, this revision of the dream-content 
is only possible if it is not too punctiliously carried out; nor does it present us 
with anything more than a glaring misunderstanding of the dream-thoughts. 
Before we start upon the analysis of a dream we have to clear the ground of 
this attempt at an interpretation. 

The motive for this part of the dream-work is particularly obvious. Consider- 
ations of intelligibility are what lead to this final revision of a dream; and this 
reveals the origin of the activity. It behaves towards the dream-content lying 
before it just as our normal psychical activity behaves in general towards any 
perceptual content that may be presented to it. It understands that content on 
the basis of certain anticipatory ideas, and arranges it, even at the moment of 
perceiving it, on the presupposition of its being intelligible; in so doing it runs 
a risk of falsifying it, and in fact, if it cannot bring it into line with anything 
familiar, is a prey to the strangest misunderstandings. As is well known, we are 
incapable of seeing a series of unfamiliar signs or of hearing a succession of 
unknown words, without at once falsifying the perception from considerations 
of intelligibility, on the basis of something already known to us. 



Ia Classicism and Originality 29 

Dreams which have undergone a revision of this kind at the hands of a 
psychical activity completely analogous to waking thought may be described as 
'well-constructed'. In the case of other dreams this activity has completely 
broken down; no attempt even has been made to arrange or interpret the 
material, and, since after we have woken up we feel ourselves identical with 
this last part of the dream-work, we make a judgement that the dream was 
'hopelessly confused'. From the point of view of analysis, however, a dream 
that resembles a disordered heap of disconnected fragments is just as valuable 
as one that has been beautifully polished and provided with a surface. In the 
former case, indeed, we are saved the trouble of demolishing what has been 
superimposed upon the dream-content. 

It would be a mistake, however, to suppose that these dream-facades are 
nothing other than mistaken and somewhat arbitrary revisions of the dream- 
content by the conscious agency of our mental life. In the erection of a 
dream-facade use is not infrequently made of wishful phantasies which are 
present in the dream-thoughts in a pre-constructed form, and are of the same 
character as the appropriately named 'day-dreams' familiar to us in waking life. 
The wishful phantasies revealed by analysis in night-dreams often turn out to 
be repetitions or modified versions of scenes from infancy; thus in some cases 
the facade of the dream directly reveals the dream's actual nucleus, distorted 
by an admixture of other material. 

The dream-work exhibits no activities other than the four that have already 
been mentioned. If we keep to the definition of 'dream-work' as the process of 
transforming the dream-thoughts into the dream-content, it follows that the 
dream-work is not creative, that it develops no phantasies of its own, that it 
makes no judgements and draws no conclusions; it has no functions whatever 
other than condensation and displacement of the material and its modification 
into pictorial form, to which must be added as a variable factor the final bit of 
interpretative revision. It is true that we find various things in the dream-content 
which we should be inclined to regard as a product of some other and higher 
intellectual function; but in every case analysis shows convincingly that these 
intellectual operations have already been performed in the dream-thoughts and have 
only been TAKEN OVER by the dream-content. A conclusion drawn in a dream 
is nothing other than the repetition of a conclusion in the dream-thoughts; if 
the conclusion is taken over into the dream unmodified, it will appear impec- 
cable; if the dream-work has displaced it on to some other material, it will 
appear nonsensical. A calculation in the dream-content signifies nothing more 
than that there is a calculation in the dream-thoughts; but while the latter is 
always rational, a dream-calculation may produce the wildest results if its factors 
are condensed or if its mathematical operations are displaced on to other 
material. Not even the speeches that occur in the dream-content are original 
compositions; they turn out to be a hotchpotch of speeches made, heard or read, 
which have been revived in the dream-thoughts and whose wording is exactly 
reproduced, while their origin is entirely disregarded and their meaning is 
violently changed. 



30 The Legacy of Symbolism 



VIII 

Having been made acquainted with the dream-work ... we shall no doubt be 
inclined to pronounce it a quite peculiar psychical process, the like of which, 
so far as we are aware, does not exist elsewhere. It is as though we were carrying 
over on to the dream-work all the astonishment which used formerly to be 
aroused in us by its product, the dream. In fact, however, the dream-work is 
only the first to be discovered of a whole series of psychical processes, 
responsible for the generation of hysterical symptoms, of phobias, obsessions 
and delusions. Condensation and, above all, displacement are invariable charac- 
teristics of these other processes as well. Modification into a pictorial form, on 
the other hand, remains a peculiarity of the dream-work. If this explanation 
places dreams in a single series alongside the structures produced by psychical 
illness, this makes it all the more important for us to discover the essential 
determining conditions of such processes as those of dream-formation. We shall 
probably be surprised to hear that neither the state of sleep nor illness is among 
these indispensable conditions. A whole number of the phenomena of the 
everyday life of healthy people - such as forgetting, slips of the tongue, bungled 
actions and a particular class of errors - owe their origin to a psychical 
mechanism analogous to that of dreams and of the other members of the series. 
The heart of the problem lies in displacement, which is by far the most 
striking of the special achievements of the dream-work. If we enter deeply into 
the subject, we come to realize that the essential determining condition of 
displacement is a purely psychological one: something in the nature of a motive. 
One comes upon its track if one takes into consideration certain experiences 
which one cannot escape in analysing dreams. In analysing my specimen dream 
I was obliged to break off my report of the dream-thoughts . . . because, as I 
confessed, there were some among them which I should prefer to conceal from 
strangers and which I could not communicate to other people without doing 
serious mischief in important directions. I added that nothing would be gained 
if I were to choose another dream instead of that particular one with a view to 
reporting its analysis: I should come upon dream-thoughts which required to 
be kept secret in the case of every dream with an obscure or confused content. 
If, however, I were to continue the analysis on my own account, without any 
reference to other people (whom, indeed, an experience so personal as my dream 
cannot possibly have been intended to reach), I should eventually arrive at 
thoughts which would surprise me, whose presence in me I was unaware of, 
which were not only alien but also disagreeable to me, and which I should 
therefore feel inclined to dispute energetically, although the chain of thoughts 
running through the analysis insisted upon them remorselessly. There is only 
one way of accounting for this state of affairs, which is of quite universal 
occurrence; and that is to suppose that these thoughts really were present in 
my mind, and in possession of a certain amount of psychical intensity or energy, 
but that they were in a peculiar psychological situation, as a consequence of 
which they could not become conscious to me. (I describe this particular condition 
as one of 'repression'.) We cannot help concluding, then, that there is a causal 



Ia Classicism and Originality 31 

connection between the obscurity of the dream-content and the state of repress- 
ion (inadmissibility to consciousness) of certain of the dream-thoughts, and that 
the dream had to be obscure so as not to betray the proscribed dream-thoughts. 
Thus we are led to the concept of a 'dream-distortion', which is the product 
of the dream-work and serves the purpose of dissimulation, that is, of disguise. 



X 

Hitherto philosophers have had no occasion to concern themselves with a 
psychology of repression. We may therefore be permitted to make a first 
approach to this hitherto unknown topic by constructing a pictorial image of 
the course of events in dream-formation. It is true that the schematic picture 
we have arrived at - not only from the study of dreams - is a fairly complicated 
one; but we cannot manage with anything simpler. Our hypothesis is that in 
our mental apparatus there are two thought-constructing agencies, of which the 
second enjoys the privilege of having free access to consciousness for its 
products, whereas the activity of the first is in itself unconscious and can only 
reach consciousness by way of the second. On the frontier between the two 
agencies, where the first passes over to the second, there is a censorship, which 
only allows what is agreeable to it to pass through and holds back everything 
else. According to our definition, then, what is rejected by the censorship is in 
a state of repression. Under certain conditions, of which the state of sleep is 
one, the relation between the strength of the two agencies is modified in such 
a way that what is repressed can no longer be held back. In the state of sleep 
this probably occurs owing to a relaxation of the censorship; when this happens 
it becomes possible for what has hitherto been repressed to make a path for 
itself to consciousness. Since, however, the censorship is never completely 
eliminated but merely reduced, the repressed material must submit to certain 
alterations which mitigate its offensive features. What becomes conscious in such 
cases is a compromise between the intentions of one agency and the demands 
of the other. Repression - relaxation of the censorship - the formation of a 
compromise, this is the fundamental pattern for the generation not only of dreams 
but of many other psychopathological structures; and in the latter cases too we 
may observe that the formation of compromises is accompanied by processes of 
condensation and displacement and by the employment of superficial associ- 
ations, which we have become familiar with in the dream-work. 

We have no reason to disguise the fact that in the hypothesis which we have 
set up in order to explain the dream-work a part is played by what might be 
described as a 'daemonic' element. We have gathered an impression that the 
formation of obscure dreams occurs as though one person who was dependent 
upon a second person had to make a remark which was bound to be disagreeable 
in the ears of this second one; and it is on the basis of this simile that we have 
arrived at the concepts of dream-distortion and censorship, and have endeav- 
oured to translate our impression into a psychological theory which is no doubt 
crude but is at least lucid. Whatever it may be with which a further investigation 



32 The Legacy of Symbolism 

of the subject may enable us to identify our first and second agencies, we may 
safely expect to find a confirmation of some correlate of our hypothesis that 
the second agency controls access to consciousness and can bar the first agency 
from such access. 

When the state of sleep is over, the censorship quickly recovers its full 
strength; and it can now wipe out all that was won from it during the period 
of its weakness. This must be one part at least of the explanation of the 
forgetting of dreams, as is shown by an observation which has been confirmed 
on countless occasions. It not infrequently happens that during the narration of 
a dream or during its analysis a fragment of the dream-content which had 
seemed to be forgotten re-emerges. This fragment which has been rescued 
from oblivion invariably affords us the best and most direct access to the 
meaning of the dream. And that, in all probability, must have been the only 
reason for its having been forgotten, that is, for its having been once more 
suppressed. 
* * * 



XII 

No one who accepts the view that the censorship is the chief reason for 
dream-distortion will be surprised to learn from the results of dream-interpre- 
tation that most of the dreams of adults are traced back by analysis to erotic 
wishes. This assertion is not aimed at dreams with an undisguised sexual content, 
which are no doubt familiar to all dreamers from their own experience and are 
as a rule the only ones to be described as 'sexual dreams'. Even dreams of this 
latter kind offer enough surprises in their choice of the people whom they make 
into sexual objects, in their disregard of all the limitations which the dreamer 
imposes in his waking life upon his sexual desires, and by their many strange 
details, hinting at what are commonly known as 'perversions'. A great many 
other dreams, however, which show no sign of being erotic in their manifest 
content, are revealed by the work of interpretation in analysis as sexual wish- 
fulfilments; and, on the other hand, analysis proves that a great many of the 
thoughts left over from the activity of waking life as 'residues of the previous 
day' only find their way to representation in dreams through the assistance of 
repressed erotic wishes. 

There is no theoretical necessity why this should be so; but to explain the 
fact it may be pointed out that no other group of instincts has been submitted 
to such far-reaching suppression by the demands of cultural education, while 
at the same time the sexual instincts are also the ones which, in most people, 
find it easiest to escape from the control of the highest mental agencies. Since 
we have become acquainted with infantile sexuality, which is often so unobtru- 
sive in its manifestations and is always overlooked and misunderstood, we are 
justified in saying that almost every civilized man retains the infantile forms of 
sexual life in some respect or other. We can thus understand how it is that 
repressed infantile sexual wishes provide the most frequent and strongest 
motive-forces for the construction of dreams. 



Ia Classicism and Originality 33 
» 
There is only one method by which a dream which expresses erotic wishes 
can succeed in appearing innocently non-sexual in its manifest content. The 
material of the sexual ideas must not be represented as such, but must be 
replaced in the content of the dream by hints, allusions and similar forms of 
indirect representation. But, unlike other forms of indirect representation, that 
which is employed in dreams must not be immediately intelligible. The modes 
of representation which fulfil these conditions are usually described as 'symbols' 
of the things which they represent. Particular interest has been directed to them 
since it has been noticed that dreamers speaking the same language make use 
of the same symbols, and that in some cases, indeed, the use of the same symbols 
extends beyond the use of the same language. Since dreamers themselves are 
unaware of the meaning of the symbols they use, it is difficult at first sight to 
discover the source of the connection between the symbols and what they replace 
and represent. The fact itself, however, is beyond doubt, and it is important 
for the technique of dream-interpretation. For, with the help of a knowledge 
of dream-symbolism, it is possible to understand the meaning of separate 
elements of the content of a dream or separate pieces of a dream or in some 
cases even whole dreams, without having to ask the dreamer for his associations. 
Here we are approaching the popular ideal of translating dreams and on the 
other hand are returning to the technique of interpretation used by the ancients, 
to whom dream-interpretation was identical with interpretation by means of 
symbols. 

Although the study of dream-symbols is far from being complete, we are in 
a position to lay down with certainty a number of general statements and a 
quantity of special information on the subject. There are some symbols which 
bear a single meaning almost universally: thus the Emperor and Empress (or 
the King and Queen) stand for the parents, rooms represent women and their 
entrances and exits the openings of the body. The majority of dream-symbols 
serve to represent persons, parts of the body and activities invested with erotic 
interest; in particular, the genitals are represented by a number of often very 
surprising symbols, and the greatest variety of objects are employed to denote 
them symbolically. Sharp weapons, long and stiff objects, such as tree-trunks 
and sticks, stand for the male genital; while cupboards, boxes, carriages or ovens 
may represent the uterus. In such cases as these the tertium comparationis, the 
common element in these substitutions, is immediately intelligible; but there 
are other symbols in which it is not so easy to grasp the connection. Symbols 
such as a staircase or going upstairs to represent sexual intercourse, a tie or 
cravat for the male organ, or wood for the female one, provoke our unbelief 
until we can arrive at an understanding of the symbolic relation underlying them 
by some other means. Moreover a whole number of dream-symbols are bisexual 
and can relate to the male or female genitals according to the context. 

Some symbols are universally disseminated and can be met with in all 
dreamers belonging to a single linguistic or cultural group; there are others 
which occur only within the most restricted and individual limits, symbols 
constructed by an individual out of his own ideational material. Of the for- 
mer class we can distinguish some whose claim to represent sexual ideas is 



34 The Legacy of Symbolism 

immediately justified by linguistic usage (such, for instance, as those derived 
from agriculture, e.g. 'fertilization' or 'seed') and others whose relation to sexual 
ideas appears to reach back into the very earliest ages and to the most obscure 
depths of our conceptual functioning. The power of constructing symbols has 
not been exhausted in our own days in the case of either of the two sorts of 
symbols which I have distinguished at the beginning of this paragraph. Newly 
discovered objects (such as airships) are, as we may observe, at once adopted 
as universally available sexual symbols. 

It would, incidentally, be a mistake to expect that if we had a still profounder 
knowledge of dream-symbolism (of the language of dreams') we could do 
without asking the dreamer for his associations to the dream and go back entirely 
to the technique of dream-interpretation of antiquity. Quite apart from individ- 
ual symbols and oscillations in the use of universal ones, one can never tell 
whether any particular element in the content of a dream is to be interpreted 
symbolically or in its proper sense, and one can be certain that the whole content 
of a dream is not to be interpreted symbolically. A knowledge of dream-sym- 
bolism will never do more than enable us to translate certain constituents of 
the dream-content, and will not relieve us of the necessity for applying the 
technical rules which I gave earlier. It will, however, afford the most valuable 
assistance to interpretation precisely at points at which the dreamer's associations 
are insufficient or fail altogether. 

Dream-symbolism is also indispensable to an understanding of what are known 
as 'typical' dreams, which are common to everyone, and of 'recurrent' dreams 
in individuals. 

If the account I have given in this short discussion of the symbolic mode of 
expression in dreams appears incomplete, I can justify my neglect by drawing 
attention to one of the most important pieces of knowledge that we possess on 
this subject. Dream-symbolism extends far beyond dreams: it is not peculiar to 
dreams, but exercises a similar dominating influence on representation in 
fairy-tales, myths and legends, in jokes and in folk-lore. It enables us to trace 
the intimate connections between dreams and these latter productions. We must 
not suppose that dream-symbolism is a creation of the dream-work; it is in 
all probability a characteristic of the unconscious thinking which provides 
the dream-work with the material for condensation, displacement and dramat- 
ization. 



5 Otto Weininger (1880-1903) from Sex and Character 

The author became a cult figure in Austro-German intellectual life after his death by 
suicide in October 1903. His book Geschiecht und Charakter had been published a few 
months earlier in Vienna. Violently misogynistic and anti-Semitic though his own views 
were, Weininger's acute theorization of the supposed decline of modern civilization had 
an impact on much wider cultural circles. He was, for example, read in Italian translation 
by de Chirico, and invoked in de Chirico's essay of 1919 'On Metaphysical Art'. 
Weininger's work constitutes an early and forceful statement of that influential viewpoint 



Ia Classicism and Originality 35 

which connects the decay of the spiritual and artistic aspects of life to modern 
materialism and the rise of science. It also serves to demonstrate the uncomfortable 
fact that Nazism had a considerable intellectual pedigree. The book was in its sixth 
edition by 1906, when an authorized English translation was published in London. The 
present text is taken from that version. 



[. . .] The scientific man ranks . . . below the artist and the philosopher. The 
two latter may earn the title of genius which must always be denied to the 
scientific man. Without any good reason having been assigned for it, it has 
usually been the case that the voice of genius on any particular problem is 
listened to before the voice of science. Is there justice in this preference? Can 
the genius explain things as to which the man of science, as such, can say 
nothing? Can he peer into depths where the man of science is blind? 

The conception genius concludes universality. If there were an absolute genius 
(a convenient fiction) there would be nothing to which he could not have a 
vivid, intimate, and complete relation. Genius, as I have already shown, would 
have universal comprehension, and through its perfect memory would be 
independent of time. To comprehend anything one must have within one 
something similar. A man notices, understands, and comprehends only those 
things with which he has some kinship. The genius is the man with the most 
intense, most vivid, most conscious, most continuous, and most individual ego. 
The ego is the central point, the unit of comprehension, the synthesis of all 
manifoldness. 

The ego of the genius accordingly is simply itself universal comprehension, 
the centre of infinite space; the great man contains the whole universe within 
himself; genius is the living microcosm. He is not an intricate mosaic, a chemical 
combination of an infinite number of elements ... he is everything. In him and 
through him all psychical manifestations cohere and are real experiences, not 
an elaborate piece-work, a whole put together from parts in the fashion of 
science. For the genius the ego is the all, lives as the all; the genius sees nature 
and all existences as whole; the relations of things flash on him intuitively; he 
has not to build bridges of stones between them. And so the genius cannot be 
an empirical psychologist slowly collecting details and linking them by associ- 
ations; he cannot be a physicist, envisaging the world as a compound of atoms 
and molecules. 

It is absolutely from his vision of the whole, in which the genius always lives, 
that he gets his sense of the parts. He values everything within him or without 
him by the standard of this vision, a vision that for him is no function of time, 
but a part of eternity. [...] The scientist takes phenomena for what they 
obviously are; the great man or the genius for what they signify. Sea and 
mountain, light and darkness, spring and autumn, cypress and palm, dove and 
swan are symbols to him, he not only thinks that there is, but he recognizes in 
them something deeper. The ride of the Valkyrie is not produced by atmospheric 
pressure and the magic fire is not the outcome of a process of oxidation. 

And all this is possible for him because the outer world is as full and strongly 
connected as the inner in him, the external world in fact seems to be only a 



36 The Legacy of Symbolism 

special aspect of his inner life; the universe and the ego have become one in 
him, and he is not obliged to set his experience together piece by piece according 
to rule. [. . .] The infinity of the universe is responded to in the genius by a 
true sense of infinity in his own breast; he holds chaos and cosmos, all details 
and all totality, all plurality, and all singularity in himself. [ . . . ] 
* * * 

[. . .] It is notable that the Jews, even now when at least a relative security of 
tenure is possible, prefer moveable property, and, in spite of their acquisitive- 
ness, have little real sense of personal property, especially in its most charac- 
teristic form, landed property. Property is indissolubly connected with the self, 
with individuality. It is in harmony with the foregoing that the Jew is so readily 
disposed to communism. Communism must be distinguished clearly from so- 
cialism, the former being based on a community of goods, an absence of 
individual property, the latter meaning, in the first place a co-operation of 
individual with individual, of worker with worker, and a recognition of human 
individuality in every one. Socialism is Aryan (Owen, Carlyle, Ruskin, Fichte). 
Communism is Jewish (Marx). Modern social democracy has moved far apart 
from the earlier socialism, precisely because Jews have taken so large a share in 
developing it. In spite of the associative element in it, the Marxian doctrine 
does not lead in any way towards the State as a union of all the separate 
individual aims, as the higher unit combining the purposes of the lower units. 
Such a conception is as foreign to the Jew as it is to the woman. 



Judaism, at the present day, has reached its highest point since the time of 
Herod. Judaism is the spirit of modern life. Sexuality is accepted, and contem- 
porary ethics sing the praises of pairing. [ . . . ] It is the Jew and the woman 
who are the apostles of pairing to bring guilt on humanity. 

Our age is not only the most Jewish but the most feminine. It is a time when 
art is content with daubs and seeks its inspiration in the sports of animals; the 
time of a superficial anarchy, with no feeling for Justice and the State; a time 
of communistic ethics, of the most foolish of historical views, the materialistic 
interpretation of history; a time of capitalism and of Marxism; a time when 
history, life, and science are no more than political economy and technical 
instruction; a time when genius is supposed to be a form of madness; a time 
with no great artists and no great philosophers; a time without originality and 
yet with the most foolish craving for originality; a time when the cult of the 
Virgin has been replaced by that of the Demi-vierge. It is the time when pairing 
has not only been approved but has been enjoined as a duty. 

But from the new Judaism the new Christianity may be pressing forth; 
mankind waits for the new founder of religion, and, as in the year one, the age 
presses for a decision. The decision must be made between Judaism and 
Christianity, between business and culture, between male and female, be- 
tween the race and the individual, between unworthiness and worth, between 
the earthly and the higher life, between negation and the God-like. Man- 
kind has the choice to make. There are only two poles, and there is no middle 
way. 



Ia Classicism and Originality 37 

6 Paul Cezanne (1839-1906) Letters to Emile Bernard 

The painter and writer Emile Bernard visited Cezanne in Aix in 1904. In their ensuing 
correspondence the older artist expounded the priorities of his practice. Bernard drew 
on these letters in his subsequent writings. His interpretation of Cezanne's work and 
ideas was all the more influential for appearing to carry the authority of a confidant. 
From J. Rewald, Cezanne's Letters, 4th edition, Oxford, 1976. 

Aix-en-Provence, 15 April, 1904 

[ . . . ] I am happy with the expression of warm artistic sympathy which you 
kindly address to me in your letter. 

May I repeat what I told you here: treat nature by means of the cylinder, 
the sphere, the cone, everything brought into proper perspective so that each 
side of an object or a plane is directed towards a central point. Lines parallel 
to the horizon give breadth, whether it is a section of nature or, if you prefer, 
of the show which the Pater Omnipotens Aeterne Deus spreads out before our 
eyes. Lines perpendicular to this horizon give depth. But nature for us men is 
more depth than surface, whence the need to introduce into our light vibrations, 
represented by the reds and yellows, a sufficient amount of blueness to give the 
feel of air. 

I must tell you that I had another look at the study you made from the lower 
floor of the studio, it is good. You only have to continue in this way, I think. 
You have the understanding of what must be done and you will soon turn your 
back on the Gauguins and [van] Goghs! [. . .] 



Aix, 12 May, 1904 

[ . . . ] My absorption in work and my advanced age will sufficiently explain the 
delay in answering your letter. 

You entertain me, moreover, in your last letter with such a variety of topics, 
though all are connected with art, that I cannot follow it in all its developments. 

I have already told you that I like Redon's talent enormously, and from my 
heart I agree with his feeling for and admiration of Delacroix. I do not know 
if my indifferent health will allow me ever to realize my dream of painting his 
apotheosis. 

I progress very slowly, for nature reveals herself to me in very complex ways; 
and the progress needed is endless. One must look at the model and feel very 
exactly; and also express oneself distinctly and with force. 

Taste is the best judge. It is rare. Art addresses itself only to an excessively 
limited number of individuals. 

The artist must scorn all judgment that is not based on an intelligent 
observation of character. 

He must beware of the literary spirit which so often causes the painter to 
deviate from his true path - the concrete study of nature - to lose himself too 
long in intangible speculation. 



38 The Legacy of Symbolism 

The Louvre is a good book to consult but it must be only an intermediary. 
The real and immense study to be undertaken is the manifold picture of nature. 



Aix, 26 May, 1904 

[. . .] On the whole I approve of the ideas you are going to expound in your 
next article for Occident. But I must always come back to this: painters must 
devote themselves entirely to the study of nature and try to produce pictures 
which will be an education. Talking about art is almost useless. The work which 
brings about some progress in one's own craft is sufficient compensation for 
not being understood by the imbeciles. 

The man of letters expresses himself in abstractions whereas a painter, by 
means of drawing and colour, gives concrete form to his sensations and 
perceptions. One is neither too scrupulous nor too sincere nor too submissive 
to nature; but one is more or less master of one's model, and above all, of the 
means of expression. Get to the heart of what is before you and continue to 
express yourself as logically as possible. [ . . . ] 

Aix, 25 July, 1904 

[. . .] I have received the Revue Occidentale. I can only thank you for what you 
wrote about me. 

I am sorry that we cannot be side by side, for I don't want to be right in 
theory, but in front of nature. Ingres in spite of his 'estyle' (Aixian pronunci- 
ation) and his admirers, is only a very small painter. The greatest, you know 
them better than I; the Venetians and the Spaniards. 

In order to make progress, there is only nature, and the eye is trained through 
contact with her. It becomes concentric through looking and working. I mean 
to say that in an orange, an apple, a ball, a head, there is a culminating point; 
and this point is always - in spite of the tremendous effect; light and shade, 
colour sensations - the closest to our eye; the edges of the objects flee towards 
a centre on our horizon. With a small temperament one can be very much of a 
painter. One can do good things without being very much of a harmonist or a 
colourist. It is sufficient to have a sense of art - and this is without doubt the 
horror of the bourgeois, this sense. Therefore institutions, pensions, honours 
can only be made for cretins, humbugs and rascals. Don't be an art critic, but 
paint, there lies salvation. [. . .] 



Aix, 23 December, 1904 

[. . .] I shall not enter with you into aesthetic considerations. Yes, I approve 
of your admiration for the strongest of the Venetians; we praise Tintoretto. 
Your need to find a moral, an intellectual point of support in works, which 
assuredly will never be surpassed, keeps you constantly on the qui vive, 
incessantly on the search for the means, only dimly perceived, which will surely 



Ia Classicism and Originality 39 

lead you, in front of nature, to sense your own means of expression; and on 
the day you find them, be convinced you will rediscover without effort, in front 
of nature, the means employed by the four or five great ones of Venice. 

This is true, without any possible doubt - I am quite positive: - an optical 
sensation is produced in our visual organs which allows us to classify the planes 
represented by colour sensations as light, half tone or quarter tone. Light, 
therefore, does not exist for the painter. As long as we are forced to proceed 
from black to white, with the first of these abstractions providing something 
like a point of support for the eye as much as for the brain, we flounder, we 
do not succeed in becoming masters of ourselves, in being in possession of 
ourselves. During this period (I am necessarily repeating myself a little) we turn 
towards the admirable works that have been handed down to us through the 
ages, where we find comfort, support, such as a plank provides for the bather. 

[.-■]■ 



Aix, 23 October, 1905 

[. . .] Your letters are precious to me for a double reason: The first being purely 
egoistic, because their arrival lifts me out of the monotony caused by 
the incessant pursuit of the sole and unique aim, which leads in moments of 
physical fatigue to a kind of intellectual exhaustion; and the second, allows me 
to reassess for you, undoubtedly rather too much, the obstinacy with which I 
pursue the realization of that part of nature, which, coming into our line of 
vision, gives us the picture. Now the theme to develop is that - whatever our 
temperament or form of strength face to face with nature may be - we must 
render the image of what we see, forgetting everything that existed before us. 
Which, I believe, must permit the artist to give his entire personality, whether 
great or small. 

Now, being old, nearly 70 years, the sensations of colour, which give the 
light, are for me the reason for the abstractions which do not allow me to cover 
my canvas entirely nor to pursue the delimitation of the objects where their 
points of contact are fine and delicate; from which it results that my image or 
picture is incomplete. On the other hand the planes fall one on top of the other, 
from whence neo-impressionism emerged, which circumscribes the contours 
with a black line, a fault which must be fought at all costs. But nature, if 
consulted, gives us the means of attaining this end. 



Aix, 21 September, 1906 

[ . . . ] I am in such a state of mental disturbance, I fear at moments that my 
frail reason may give way. After the terrible heatwave that we have just had, a 
milder temperature has brought some calm to our minds, and it was not too 
soon; now it seems to me that I see better and that I think more correctly about 
the direction of my studies. Will I ever attain the end for which I have striven 



40 The Legacy of Symbolism 

so much and so long? I hope so, but as long as it is not attained a vague state 
of uneasiness persists which will not disappear until I have reached port, that 
is until I have realized something which develops better than in the past, and 
thereby can prove the theories - which in themselves are always easy; it is only 
giving proof of what one thinks that raises serious obstacles. So I continue to 
study. [ . . . ] 

I am always studying after nature and it seems to me that I make slow 
progress. I should have liked you near me, for solitude always weighs me down 
a bit. But I am old, ill, and I have sworn to myself to die painting, rather than 
go under in the debasing paralysis which threatens old men who allow them- 
selves to be dominated by passions which coarsen their senses. 

If I have the pleasure of being with you one day, we shall be better able to 
discuss all this in person. You must forgive me for continually coming back to 
the same thing; but I believe in the logical development of everything we see 
and feel through the study of nature and turn my attention to technical questions 
later; for technical questions are for us only the simple means of making the 
public feel what we feel ourselves and of making ourselves understood. The 
great masters whom we admire must have done just that. [. . .] 



7 Maurice Denis (1870-1943) 'Cezanne' 

The French painter-theorist Denis had a role equal to Bernard's in establishing the terms 
of Cezanne's modern reputation. In this essay he represents Cezanne's work as the 
essential form of modern painting: an assiduous blending of the naive and empirical 
with the classic and rational. Originally published in L'Occ/dent, Paris, September 1907, 
in the year after Cezanne's death. The present translation by Roger Fry published in 
Burlington Magazine, XVI, London, January-February 1910, pp. 207-19 and 275-80. 
Fry's introductory note voices the avant-garde view that Cezanne's art was central to 
an epochal new movement. 

Introductory Note 

Anyone who has had the opportunity of observing modern French art cannot 
fail to be struck by the new tendencies that have become manifest in the last 
few years. A new ambition, a new conception of the purpose and methods of 
painting, are gradually emerging; a new hope too, and a new courage to attempt 
in painting that direct expression of imagined states of consciousness which has 
for long been relegated to music and poetry. This new conception of art, in 
which the decorative elements preponderate at the expense of the representative, 
is not the outcome of any conscious archaistic endeavour, such as made, and 
perhaps inevitably marred, our own pre-Raphaelite movement. It has in it 
therefore the promise of a larger and a fuller life. It is, I believe, the direct 
outcome of the Impressionist movement. It was among Impressionists that it 
took its rise, and yet it implies the direct contrary of the Impressionist 
conception of art. 



Ia Classicism and Originality 41 

It is generally admitted that the great and original genius, - for recent criticism 
has the courage to acclaim him as such - who really started this movement, the 
most promising and fruitful of modern times, was Cezanne. [ . . . ] 

* * * 

Roger E. Fry. 

I 

There is something paradoxical in Cezanne's celebrity; and it is scarcely easier 
to explain than to explain Cezanne himself. The Cezanne question divides 
inseparably into two camps those who love painting and those who prefer to 
painting itself the literary and other interests accessory to it. I know indeed that 
it is the fashion to like painting. The discussions on this question are no longer 
serious and impassioned. Too many admirations lend themselves to suspicion. 
'Snobbism' and speculation have dragged the public into painters' quarrels, and 
it takes sides according to fashion or interest. Thus it has come about that a 
public naturally hostile, but well primed by critics and dealers, has conspired 
to the apotheosis of a great artist, who remains nevertheless a difficult master 
even for those who love him best. 

* * * 

At the moment of his death, the articles in the press were unanimous upon 
two points; and, wherever their inspiration was derived from, they may fairly 
be considered to reflect the average opinion. The obituaries, then, admitted first 
of all that Cezanne influenced a large section of the younger artists; and secondly 
that he made an effort towards style. We may gather, then, that Cezanne was 
a sort of classic, and that the younger generation regards him as a representative 
of classicism. 

Unfortunately it is hard to say without too much obscurity what classicism is. 

Suppose that after a long sojourn in the country one enters one of those 
dreary provincial museums, one of those cemeteries abandoned to decay, where 
the silence and the musty smell denote the lapse of time; one immediately 
classifies the works exhibited into two groups: in one group the remains of the 
old collections of amateurs, and in the other the modern galleries, where the 
commissions given by the State have piled together the pitiful novelties bought 
in the annual salons according as studio intrigues or ministerial favour decides. 
It is in such circumstances that one becomes really and ingenuously sensitive 
to the contrast between ancient and modern art; and that an old canvas by some 
Bolognese or from Lebrun's atelier, at once vigorous and synthetic in design, 
asserts its superiority to the dry analyses and thin coloured photographs of our 
gold-medallists! 

Imagine, quite hypothetically, that a Cezanne is there. So we shall understand 
him better. First of all, we know we cannot place him in the modern galleries, 
so completely would he be out of key among the anecdotes and the fatuities. 
One must of sheer necessity place him among the old masters, to whom he is 
seen at a glance to be akin by his nobility of style. Gauguin used to say, thinking 
of Cezanne: 'Nothing is so much like a croute [a daub] as a real masterpiece.' 



42 The Legacy of Symbolism 

Croute or masterpiece, one can only understand it in opposition to the mediocrity 
of modern painting. And already we grasp one of the certain characteristics of 
the classic, namely, style, that is to say synthetic order. In opposition to modern 
pictures, a Cezanne inspires by itself, by its qualities of unity in composition 
and colour, in short by its painting. The actualities, the illustrations to popular 
novels or historical events, with which the walls of our supposed museum are 
lined, seek to interest us only by means of the subject represented. Others 
perhaps establish the virtuosity of their authors. Good or bad, Cezanne's canvas 
is truly a picture. 

Suppose now that for another experiment, and this time a less chimerical one, 
we put together three works of the same family, three natures-mortes, one by 
Manet, one by Gauguin, one by Cezanne. We shall distinguish at once the 
objectivity of Manet; that he imitates nature 'as seen through his temperament', 
that he translates an artistic sensation. Gauguin is more subjective. His is a 
decorative, even a hieratic interpretation of nature. Before the Cezanne we think 
only of the picture; neither the object represented nor the artist's personality 
holds our attention. We cannot decide so quickly whether it is an imitation or 
an interpretation of nature. We feel that such an art is nearer to Chardin than 
to Manet and Gauguin. And if at once we say: this is a picture and a classic 
picture, the word begins to take on a precise meaning, that, namely, of an 
equilibrium, a reconciliation of the objective and subjective. 

In the Berlin Museum, for instance, the effect produced by Cezanne is 
significant. However much one admires Manet's La Serve or Renoir's Enfants 
Berard or the admirable landscapes of Monet and Sisley, the presence of Cezanne 
makes one assimilate them (unjustly, it is true, but by the force of contrast) to 
the generality of modern productions: on the contrary the pictures of Cezanne 
seem like works of another period, no less refined but more robust than the 
most vigorous efforts of the Impressionists. 

Thus we arrive at our first estimate of Cezanne as reacting against modern 
painting and against Impressionism. 
* * * 

Impressionism - and by that I mean much more the general movement, which 
has changed during the last twenty years the aspect of modern painting, than 
the special art of a Monet or a Renoir - Impressionism was synthetic in its 
tendencies, since its aim was to translate a sensation, to realize a mood; but its 
methods were analytic, since colour for it resulted from an infinity of contrasts. 
For it was by means of the decomposition of the prism that the Impressionists 
reconstituted light, divided colour and multiplied reflected lights and gradations; 
in fact, they substituted for varying greys as many different positive colours. 
Therein lies the fundamental error of Impressionism. The Fifre of Manet in 
four tones is necessarily more synthetic than the most delicious Renoir, where 
the play of sunlight and shadow creates the widest range of varied half-tones. 
Now there is in a fine Cezanne as much simplicity, austerity and grandeur as 
in Manet, and the gradations retain the freshness and lustre which give their 
flower-like brilliance to the canvases of Renoir. Some months before his death 
Cezanne said: 'What I wanted was to make of Impressionism something solid 



Ia Classicism and Originality 43 

and durable, like the art of the museums.' It was for this reason also that he 
so much admired the early Pissarros, and still more the early Monets. Monet 
was, indeed, the only one of his contemporaries for whom he expressed great 
admiration. 

Thus at first guided by his Latin instinct and his natural inclination, and 
later with full consciousness of his purpose and his own nature, he set to work 
to create out of Impressionism a certain classic conception. 

In constant reaction against the art of his time, his powerful individuality 
drew from it none the less the material and pretext for his researches in style; 
he drew from it the sustaining elements of his work. At a period when the 
artist's sensibility was considered almost universally to be the sole motive of a 
work of art, and when improvisation - 'the spiritual excitement provoked by 
exaltation of the senses' - tended to destroy at one blow both the superannuated 
conventions of the academies and the necessity for method, it happened that 
the art of Cezanne showed the way to substitute reflexion for empiricism without 
sacrificing the essential role of sensibility. Thus, for instance, instead of the 
chronometric notation of appearances, he was able to hold the emotion of the 
moment even while he elaborated almost to excess, in a calculated and intentional 
effort, his studies after nature. He composed his natures-mortes, varying inten- 
tionally the lines and the masses, disposing his draperies according to premedi- 
tated rhythms, avoiding the accidents of chance, seeking for plastic beauty; and 
all this without losing anything of the essential motive - that initial motive which 
is realized in its essentials in his sketches and water colours. I allude to the 
delicate symphony of juxtaposed gradations, which his eye discovered at once, 
but for which at the same moment his reason spontaneously demanded the 
logical support of composition, of plan and of architecture. 

There was nothing less artificial, let us note, than this effort towards a just 
combination of style and sensibility. That which others have sought, and 
sometimes found, in the imitation of the old masters, the discipline that he 
himself in his earlier works sought from the great artists of his time or of the 
past, he discovered finally in himself. And this is the essential characteristic of 
Cezanne. His spiritual conformation, his genius, did not allow him to profit 
directly from the old masters: he finds himself in a situation towards them 
similar to that which he occupied towards his contemporaries. His originality 
grows in his contact with those whom he imitates or is impressed by; thence 
comes his persistent gaucherie, his happy naivete, and thence also the incredible 
clumsiness into which his sincerity forced him. For him it- is not a question of 
imposing style upon a study as, after all, Puvis de Chavannes did. He is so 
naturally a painter, so spontaneously classic. If I were to venture a comparison 
with another art, I should say that there is the same relation between Cezanne 
and Veronese as between Mallarme of the 'Herodiade' and Racine of the 
'Berenice'. With the same elements - new or at all events refreshed, without 
anything borrowed from the past, except the necessary forms (on the one hand 
the mould of the Alexandrine and of tragedy, on the other the traditional 
conception of the composed picture) - they find, both poet and painter, the 
language of the Masters. Both observed the same scrupulous conformity to the 



44 The Legacy of Symbolism 

necessities of their art; both refused to overstep its limits. Just as the writer 
determined to owe the whole expression of his poem to what is, except for idea 
and subject, the pure domain of literature - sonority of words, rhythm of phrase, 
elasticity of syntax - the painter has been a painter before everything. Painting 
oscillates perpetually between invention and imitation: sometimes it copies and 
sometimes it imagines. These are its variations. But whether it reproduces 
objective nature or translates more specifically the artist's emotion, it is bound 
to be an art of concrete beauty, and our senses must discover in the work of 
art itself - abstraction made of the subject represented - an immediate satisfac- 
tion, a pure aesthetic pleasure. The painting of Cezanne is literally the essential 
art, the definition of which is so refractory to criticism, the realization of which 
seems impossible. It imitates objects without any exactitude and without any 
accessory interest of sentiment or thought. When he imagines a sketch, he 
assembles colours and forms without any literary preoccupation; his aim is nearer 
to that of a Persian carpet weaver than of a Delacroix, transforming into coloured 
harmony, but with dramatic or lyric intention, a scene of the Bible or of 
Shakespeare. A negative effort, if you will, but one which declares an unheard 
of instinct for painting. 

He is the man who paints. Renoir said to me one day: 'How on earth does 
he do it? He cannot put two touches of colour on to a canvas without its being 
already an achievement.' 

It is of little moment what the pretext is for this sampling of colour: nudes 
improbably grouped in a non-existent landscape, apples in a plate placed awry 
upon some commonplace material - there is always a beautiful line, a beautiful 
balance, a sumptuous sequence of resounding harmonies. The gift of freshness, 
the spontaneity and novelty of his discoveries, add still more to the interest of 
his slightest sketches. 

'He is', said Serusier, 'the pure painter. His style is a pure style; his poetry 
is a painter's poetry. The purpose, even the concept of the object represented, 
disappears before the charm of his coloured forms. Of an apple by some common- 
place painter one says: I should like to eat it. Of an apple by Cezanne one says: 
How beautiful! One would not peel it; one would like to copy it. It is in that 
that the spiritual power of Cezanne consists. I purposely do not) say idealism, 
because the ideal apple would be the one that stimulated most the mucous 
membrane, and Cezanne's apple speaks to the spirit by means of the eyes.' 

'One thing must be noted,' Serusier continues: 'that is the absence of subject. 
In his first manner the subject was sometimes childish: after his evolution the 
subject disappears, there is only the motive.' (It is the word that Cezanne was 
in the habit of using.) 

That is surely an important lesson. Have we not confused all the methods of 
art - mixed together music, literature, painting? In this, too, Cezanne is in 
reaction. He is a simple artisan, a primitive who returns to the sources of his 
art, respects its first postulates and necessities, limits himself by its essential 
elements, by what constitutes exclusively the art of painting. He determines to 
ignore everything else, both equivocal refinements and deceptive methods. In 
front of the motive he rejects everything that might distract him from painting, 



Ia Classicism and Originality 45 

might compromise his petite sensation as he used to say, making use of the 
phraseology of the aesthetic philosophy of his youth: he avoids at once deceptive 
representation and literature. 

II 

The preceding reflections allow us to explain in what way Cezanne is related 
to Symbolism. Synthetism, which becomes, in contact with poetry, Symbolism, 
was not in its origin a mystic or idealist movement. It was inaugurated by 
landscape-painters, by painters of still-life, not at all by painters of the soul. 
Nevertheless it implied the belief in a correspondence between external forms 
and subjective states. Instead of evoking our moods by means of the subject 
represented, it was the work of art itself which was to transmit the initial 
sensation and perpetuate its emotions. Every work of art is a transposition, an 
emotional equivalent, a caricature of a sensation received, or, more generally, 
of a psychological fact. 

'I wished to copy nature,' said Cezanne, 'I could not. But I was satisfied 
when I had discovered that the sun, for instance, could not be reproduced, but 
that it must be represented by something else ... by colour.' There is the 
definition of Symbolism such as we understood it about 1890. The older artists 
of that day, Gauguin above all, had a boundless admiration for Cezanne. I must 
add that they had at the same time the greatest esteem for Odilon Redon. Odilon 
Redon also had searched outside of the reproduction of nature and of sensation 
for the plastic equivalents of his emotions and his dreams. He, too, tried to 
remain a painter, exclusively a painter, while he was translating the radiance 
and gloom of his imagination. [ . . . ] 

It is a touching spectacle that a canvas of Cezanne presents; generally 
unfinished, scraped with a palette-knife, scored over with pentimenti in turpen- 
tine, many times repainted, with an impasto that approaches actual relief. In all 
this evidence of labour, one catches sight of the artist in his struggle for style 
and his passion for nature; of his acquiescence in certain classic formulae and 
the revolt of an original sensibility; one sees reason at odds with inexperience, 
the need for harmony conflicting with the fever of original expression. Never 
does he subordinate his efforts to his technical means; 'for the desires of the 
flesh,' says St Paul, 'are contrary to those of the spirit, and those of the spirit 
are contrary to those of the flesh, they are opposed one to another in such wise 
that ye do not that which ye would.' It is the eternal struggle of reason with 
sensibility which makes the saint and the genius. 

Let us admit that it gives rise sometimes, with Cezanne, to chaotic results. 
We have unearthed a classic spontaneity in his very sensations, but the realiz- 
ation is not reached without lapses. Constrained already by his need for synthesis 
to adopt disconcerting simplifications, he deforms his design still further by the 
necessity for expression and by his scrupulous sincerity. It is herein that we 
find the motives for the gaucherie with which Cezanne is so often reproached, 
and herein lies the explanation of that practice of naivete and ungainliness 
common to his disciples and imitators. [ . . . ] 



46 The Legacy of Symbolism 

What astonishes us most in Cezanne's work is certainly his research for form, 
or, to be exact, for deformation. It is there that one discovers the most hesitation, 
the most pentimenti on the artist's part. The large picture of the Baigneuses, left 
unfinished in the studio at Aix, is from this point of view typical. Taken up 
again, numberless times during many years, it has varied but little in general 
appearance and colour, and even the disposition of the brush-strokes remains 
almost permanent. On the other hand the dimensions of the figures were often 
readjusted; sometimes they were life-size, sometimes they were contracted to 
half; the arms, the torsos, the legs were enlarged and diminished in unimaginable 
proportions. It is just there that lies the variable element in his work; his sentiment 
for form allowed neither of silhouette nor of fixed proportions. [ . . . ] 

On the walls of Jas de Bouffan, covered up now with hangings, he has left 
improvisations, studies painted as the inspiration came, and which seem carried 
through at a sitting. They make one think, in spite of their fine pictorial quality, 
of the fanfaronnades of Claude in Zola's 'L'CEuvre', and of his declamations 
upon 'temperament'. The models of his choice at this period are engravings 
after the Spanish and Italian artists of the seventeenth century. When I asked 
him what had led him from this vehemence of execution to the patient technique 
of the separate brush-stroke, he replied, 'It is because I cannot render my 
sensation at once; hence I put on colour again, / put it on as best I can. But 
when I begin I endeavour always to paint with a full impasto like Manet, giving 
the form with the brush.'* 

'There is no such thing as line,' he said, 'no such thing as modelling, there 
are only contrasts. When colour attains its richness form attains its plenitude.' 

Thus, in his essentially concrete perception of objects, form is not separated 
from colour; they condition one another, they are indissolubly united. And in 
consequence in his execution he wishes to realize them as he sees them, by a 
single brush-stroke. [ . . . ] All his faculty for abstraction - and we see how far 
the painter dominates the theorist - all his faculty for abstraction permits him 
to distinguish only among notable forms 'the sphere, the cone and the cylinder'. 
All forms are referred to those which he is alone capable of thinking. The 
multiplicity of his colour schemes varies them infinitely. But still he never 
reaches the conception of the circle, the triangle, the parallelogram; those are 
abstractions which his eye and brain refuse to admit. Forms are for him volumes. 

Hence all objects were bound to tell for him according to their relief, and to 
be situated according to planes at different distances from the spectator within 
the supposed depth of the picture. A new antinomy, this, which threatens to 
render highly accidental 'that plane surface covered with colours arranged in a 
determined order'. Colorist before everything, as he was, Cezanne resolves this 
antinomy by chromatism - the transposition, that is, of values of black and 
white into values of colour. 

'I want,' he told me, following the passage from light to shade on his closed 
fist - 'I want to do with colour what they do in black and white with the 
stump.' He replaces light by colour. This shadow is a colour, this light, this 
half-tone are colours. The white of this table-cloth is a blue, a green, a rose; 
they mingle in the shadows with the surrounding local tints; but the crudity in 



Ia Classicism and Originality 47 

the light may be harmoniously translated by dissonant blue, green and rose. He 
substitutes, that is, contrasts of tint for contrasts of tone. He disentangles thus 
what he used to call 'the confusion of sensations'. In all this conversation, of 
which I here report scraps, he never once mentioned the word values. His 
system assuredly excludes relations of values in the sense accepted in the schools. 

Volume finds, then, its expression in Cezanne in a gamut of tints, a series of 
touches; these touches follow one another by contrast or analogy according as 
the form is interrupted or continuous. This was what he was fond of calling 
modulating instead of modelling. We know the result of this system, at once 
shimmering and forcible; I will not attempt to describe the richness of harmony 
and the gaiety of illumination of his pictures. [. . .] 
* * * 

He is at once the climax of the classic tradition and the result of the great 
crisis of liberty and illumination which has rejuvenated modern art. He is the 
Poussin of Impressionism. He has the fine perception of a Parisian, and he is 
splendid and exuberant like an Italian decorator. He is orderly as a Frenchman 
and feverish as a Spaniard. He is a Chardin of the decadence and at times he 
surpasses Chardin. There is something of El Greco in him and often the 
healthfulness of Veronese. But such as he is he is so naturally, and all the 
scruples of his will, all the assiduity of his effort have only aided and exalted 
his natural gifts. 

[■-..] The two operations, the Aspect and Prospect, as Poussin says, are no 
longer separate with Cezanne. To organize one's sensations was a discipline of 
the seventeenth century; it is the preconceived limitation of the artist's recep- 
tivity. But the true artist is like the true savant, 'a child-like and serious nature'. 
He accomplishes this miracle - to preserve amidst his efforts and his scruples 
all his freshness and naivete. 



8 Maurice Denis (1870-1943) 'From Gauguin and 
van Gogh to Neo-Classicism' 

Denis here aims to reassert the importance of the Symbolist movement of the 1890s 
and to establish a revived classicism as its proper successor. His essay thus provides 
a bridge between the anti-naturalist tendencies of Symbolism and the 'call to order' of 
the post-war years. Originally published in [.'Occident, Paris, May 1909; reprinted in 
Denis, Theories 1890-1910, Paris, 1912, from which the present version is translated. 

The great hurricane that renewed French art around 1890 originated in the shop 

of Pere Tanguy, colour-merchant, rue Clauzel, and in the Gloanec Inn at 

Pont-Aven. Gauguin gathered together at Pont-Aven a number of disciples: 

Chamaillard, Seguin, Filiger, Serusier, the Dutchman de Hahn. This formed 

i the 'weighty school of fundamentals, in the midst of large pitchers of cider'. 

At Tanguy's - he was a former member of the Commune, a gentle anarchistic 

| dreamer - there were spread out for the edification of the young, the revolu- 

| tionary productions of van Gogh, Gauguin, Emile Bernard and their emulators. 



48 The Legacy of Symbolism 

They hung in disarray next to canvases of the uncontested master, the initiator 
of the new movement, Paul Cezanne. 

Bernard, van Gogh, Anquetin, Toulouse-Lautrec were the rebels of the 
Cormon studio: we were just ourselves. Bonnard, Ibels, Ranson, Denis, those 
around Serusier, were the rebels of the Julien studio. Sympathetic to everything 
that seemed new and subversive, we were drawn to those who wiped the slate 
clean of both academic teaching, and of romantic or photographic naturalism, 
which had been universally asserted to be the only theory worth taking seriously 
in a scientific and democratic epoch. [. . .] 

Those who witnessed the 1890 movement can no longer be shocked by 
anything; the most ludicrous and incomprehensible efforts of those who are now 
called the 'Fauves' can only stir memories of the extravagances of our generation. 
To know what excitement is, the vertigo of the unexpected, it is necessary to 
have seen the Volpini cafe during the exhibition of 1889. Tucked in a corner 
away from the Great Fair, far from the official art, and the masterpieces 
assembled for retrospectives, the first works by Gauguin, Bernard, Anquetin, 
etc. hung quite pathetically, brought together for the first time, f . . .] 

At this time, the critics reproached us for wanting to babble like children. 
Actually, we did return to childhood, we played the fool, and that was without 
doubt the most intelligent thing to do. Our art was an art of savages, of 
primitives. The movement of 1890 proceeded simultaneously from a state of 
extreme decadence and from the ferment of renewal. It was the moment when 
the diver touches bottom and resurfaces. 

Without doubt, the hurricane of 1890 had been long prepared. These artists 
whose appearance caused a scandal, were the products of their time and place; 
it would be unjust to isolate them from their elders the Impressionists; in 
particular, it seems that the influence of Camille Pissarro on them was consid- 
erable. Moreover, they could not be reproached for having misunderstood their 
immediate precursors; and they showed from the outset the greatest esteem for 
those who launched them on their way; not only Camille Pissarro and Cezanne, 
and Degas, and Odilon Redon, but also Puvis de Chavannes whose official 
endorsement could have displeased their youthful intransigence. 

It was therefore the necessary culmination - action and reaction together - 
of the great Impressionist movement. Everything has been said on this subject: 
the absence of any rule, the uselessness of academic teaching, the triumph of 
naturalism, the influence of Japan, all determined the joyous flourishing of an 
art apparently freed of all constraint. New motifs, the sun, and artificial lighting 
and all the vividness of modern life were allowed into the domain of art. 
Literature mixed with the vulgarities of Realism to put an end to the refined 
touches of Symbolism; the 'slice of life' was served ungarnished; at the same 
time the aristocratic love of the choice word, of the unadulterated state of the 
soul and of obscurity in poetry, provoked the lyricism of the young writers. 
That which we demanded of Cezanne, Gauguin and van Gogh, they found in 
the works of Verlaine, Mallarme and Laforgue: in a manifesto article in the 
Revue Encyclopedique Albert Aurier wrote: 'Everywhere the right to dream is 
demanded, the right to fields of azure, the right to fly to the stars of absolute 



Ia Classicism and Originality 49 

truth. The myopic copying of anecdotes from society, the stupid imitation of 
nature's blemishes, dull observation, trompe-Poeil, the glory of being as true, 
as banally exact, as the photograph no longer satisfies any painter, any sculptor 
worthy of this name.' Musicians, less nihilistic than painters, but like them 
preoccupied with more individual liberty and more expressiveness, submitted at 
once to the influence of Wagnerian romanticism, of Russian picturesqueness, 
and of the pure music which was revealed to them by Cesar Franck, Bach and 
the contrapuntilists of the sixteenth century. 

Everything was in ferment. But finally it must be admitted that in the plastic 
arts, the idea of art as at first just restricted to the idea of the copy, relied on 
nothing more than Naturalist prejudice in both temperament and individual 
sensation. Critics said that that was how they saw things. We heightened the 
disgust with conventions, without any other goal than to destroy them: the right 
to do anything did not know any restriction. The excess of this anarchy brought 
about as a reaction the pursuit of the systematic and the taste for theory. [. . .] 

Van Gogh and Gauguin resumed with vigour this epoch of confusion and of 
renaissance. Next to the scientific impressionism of Seurat, they represented 
barbarity, revolution and fever - and finally docility. Their efforts at the 
beginning escaped every classification: and their theories were hard to differen- 
tiate from the older Impressionism. For them, as for their predecessors, art was 
the rendering of sensation, it was the exaltation of individual sensibility. All the 
elements of excess and disorder derived from Impressionism exasperated them 
at first; it was only little by little that they became aware of their innovative 
role, and they perceived that their synthetism or their symbolism is precisely 
the antithesis of Impressionism. 

Their work conquered its domain of influence by its brutal and paradoxical 
nature. We see the proof in the Northern countries, Russia, Scandinavia, 
Finland, where their influence preceded - and prepared - that of Cezanne. 
Without the destructive and contradictory anarchism of Gauguin and van Gogh, 
the example of Cezanne, with everything that it brings with it from tradition, 
measure and order, would not have been understood. The revolutionary elements 
of their works were the vehicle for the constructive elements. However, for the 
attentive observer, it has been easy to distinguish since 1890, in the excessiveness 
of the works and the paradoxes of the theories, a classical reaction. 

It suffices to remember that we have demanded since this distant era the title 
of 'Neo-Traditionalists'. But that is unimportant compared to what has hap- 
pened since. The important fact is that since then an evolution has occurred 
towards order, and even amongst those who participated in the movement of 
1890, or those who claimed to be attached to it. [ . . . ] In the midst of its elders, 
youth has become resolutely classical. One knows of the infatuation of the new 
generation for the seventeenth century, for Italy, for Ingres: Versailles is in 
fashion, Poussin applied to the nude; Bach always brings in a full house; 
Romanticism is ridiculed. In literature, in politics, young people have a passion 
for order. The return to tradition and to discipline is as unanimous as was the 
cult of the self and the spirit of revolt in our generation. In support of this, I 
note the fact that in the vocabulary of avant-garde critics, the word 'classical' 



50 The Legacy of Symbolism 

is the supreme compliment, and consequently serves to designate the most 
'advanced 1 trends. Henceforth Impressionism will be considered an era of 
'ignorance and frenzy' to which stands opposed 'a more noble art, more 
measured, more ordered, more cultivated' (consider the work of Braque). 

Truly, the moment has come where it is necessary to choose, as Barres has 
said, between traditionalism and the intellectual point of view. Trade unionists, 
or monarchists of the Action Franchise, have equally come down to earth from 
their liberal or libertine clouds, and endeavour to remain within the logic of 
facts, to reason only with realities; but the monarchist theory, total nationalism, 
has amongst other advantages, that of keeping alive the successful experiences 
of the past. We, the other painters, have developed towards classicism because 
we have had the joy of posing the double aesthetic and psychological problem 
of art. We have substituted for the idea of 'nature viewed through a tempera- 
ment' [Zola], the theory of equivalences or of the symbol. We affirm that the 
emotions or states of the soul provoked by some spectacle, create in the artistic 
imagination signs or plastic equivalents capable of reproducing these emotions 
or states of the soul without the need to create a copy of the initial spectacle; 
that each state of our sensibility must correspond to an objective harmony 
capable of being thus translated. 

Art is no longer a purely visual sensation that we record, a photograph of 
nature, as sophisticated as possible. On the contrary, it is a creation of our spirit 
which nature provokes. Instead of 'working from vision, we search for the 
mysterious centre of thought', as Gauguin said. The imagination becomes once 
again, as in Baudelaire, the queen of the faculties. Thus, we liberate our sensibility. 
Art, rather than a copy, becomes the subjective transformation of nature. 

Objectively speaking, decorative, aesthetic and rational composition, which the 
Impressionists never considered because it ran contrary to their taste for 
improvisation, has become the counterpart, the necessary corrective to the theory 
of equivalents. In the cause of expressivity, this authorized all transpositions, 
even caricatures, any excesses of aspect: objective transformation has obliged each 
artist to transpose everything into beauty. In summary, the expressive synthesis, 
the symbol of a sensation has become an eloquent transcription of it, and 
simultaneously an object composed for visual pleasure. 



Profoundly linked in Cezanne, these two trends developed to differing extents 
in van Gogh, Gauguin, Bernard, all of the old Synthetists. One can come to 
terms with their thinking, can basically summarize the essential element of their 
theories, as composed of two kinds of formal change. While decorative changes 
of form are the most common of Gauguin's preoccupations, it is by contrast 
subjective changes in form which give van Gogh's painting its character and 
lyricism. In the case of the former, one discovers beneath rustic or exotic 
surfaces, a rigorous logic and the artifices of composition, which, if one dare 
say it, preserves a little of the Italian rhetoric. The latter, by way of contrast, 
is an exasperated Romantic, who comes to us from the land of Rembrandt. The 
picturesque and the pathetic affect him more than plastic beauty and organiz- 
ation. Thus they represent an exceptional moment of the double movement, 



Ia Classicism and Originality 51 

both Classical and Romantic. Let us look in these two painters of our youth 
for some concrete images to illustrate this abstract and perhaps obscure thesis. 

In the spirited and abrupt style of van Gogh, in his search for radiance, and 
his violence of tone, I find everything that seduces the young Tachistes, and the 
reason why they content themselves with patches or streaks of pure colour. 
They admire his aggressive attitude in the face of nature, his abnormal, 
heightened, but truly lyrical vision of things; his impulse of conscience to say 
everything that he feels; the insistence with which he affirms the most capricious 
movements of his sensibility - and by what rudimentary means! - using a violent 
stroke, the bold relief of the thickening out of the paint. There is in his works 
an awkward way of attacking the canvas that the last of the Romantics took as 
a sign of genius; consider the heavy emphasis that Zola imposed on this type 
of painting in VGLuvre. The pathetic and trivial influence of Naturalism had left 
its mark even on this mystic, this sophisticated man, this poet; I still see this 
in the new generation. The word temperament, with all its animalistic conno- 
tations, has retained its prestige. Van Gogh, finally, caused in the younger 
generation a reversion to Romanticism. 
* * * 

[ . . . ] Gauguin, who created so much disorder and incoherence in his life, did 
not tolerate any of this in his painting. He loved clarity, a sign of intelligence. 
The reconstruction of art, which Cezanne began with the materials of Impress- 
ionism, was continued by Gauguin with less sensibility and breadth, but with 
more theoretical rigour. He made the thoughts of Cezanne more explicit. In re- 
immersing them in the sources of art, in investigating the primary principles 
which he called the eternal laws of the beautiful, he gave them a greater force. 
'Barbarity', he wrote, 'is for me a return to youth ... I have retreated far, further 
than the horses of the Parthenon . . . right back to the dada of my childhood, 
the beloved wooden horse.' 

We are indebted to the barbarians, to the primitives of 1890, for having 
highlighted some essential truths. We can no longer reproduce nature and life 
by more or less improvised trompe-l'oeil, but on the contrary, must reproduce 
our emotions and our dreams by representing them, using forms and harmonious 
colours. This is, I insist, a new position - at least for our times - on the problem 
of the nature of art. This concept is a fertile one. 

I repeat, this concept is the fundamental one in art of all ages; there is no 
real art which is not Symbolist. [. . .] 



If the youth of today manages to reject the negative systems which have 
disorganized art and aesthetics - and, simultaneously, French society and 
intelligence - they will find the truly contemporary elements of a classical 
restoration in our Synthetist or Symbolist views, in the rational interpretation 
of Cezanne and Gauguin. The theories of 1890 will have done more than just 
give a paradoxical twist to eternal verities. They will have made a new order 
rise up from anarchy. Our simple methods had at least the advantage of adapting 
themselves to new elements introduced by Impressionism, and of using them. 
Born of an attitude of decadence, they do not offer us an irresistible idea from 



52 The Legacy of Symbolism 

the distant past, but organize the fresh resources of modern art, our realities, in 
such a way as to allow us to reconcile the example of the masters and the 
demands of our sensibility. 

The history of art is nothing other than a perpetual beginning. The same 
principles of colour which make up the richness of a Gauguin or a van Goch 
were applied by Tintoretto and Titian. The beauty of the curves, the style of 
the lines of a Degas or a Puvis de Chavannes can be found on the side of Greek 
vases, and of primitive frescoes. 

We are aware of only a small number of positive truths; at least we can verify 
in the past glimpses of laws, certainties acquired by our own unfettered 
experience. Thus the idea of tradition, at first shapeless and rudimentary, has 
developed and enriched itself. 
* * * 

As the language of man, symbol of ideas, art can only be idealistic. Any 
confusion on this point has, hopefully, been definitively dispelled. We have once 
more given pride of place to intelligence, and highest of all, imagination, in the 
work of the artist. Whatever the impetus of a work towards nature, one must 
not forget that art does not have superior value unless it corresponds to the 
noblest and the most mysterious characteristics of the human soul. There is no 
example of a great artist who was not also a great poet, nor of a great work 
whose subject was purely pictorial. The most painterly of painters, Rembrandt, 
Rubens or Corot, were never content with being superb technicians: the works 
which immortalized them are, properly speaking, religious, no matter what their 
literary content may be. 

The productions of modern art do not extend far beyond a small circle of 
initiates; these are small coteries which benefit from it. Every type of sensibility, 
every artist, incomplete though he may be, possesses a set of admirers, his 
public. Now the work of art must reach and move all people. The classical 
masterpieces have a character of universality, of the absolute, either because 
they express and epitomize an entire civilization, or because they give rise to a 
new culture. These masterpieces depict an order of the universe, a divine order, 
that the human intelligence can manifest in a way that is fundamentally the 
same, though presented via a variety of individual formulations. These formula- 
tions only become classical to the extent that they express this order with greater 
eloquence and clarity. [. . .] 

In this essay we have not tried to explain the enigma of genius. We circle around 
this miracle only to define various approaches and differing aspects. The 
evolution from Symbolism to Classicism that we have tried to make clear and 
to explain, does not diminish artistic spontaneity. If we hope that artistic 
freedom knows definite limits and that its sensibility submits itself to the 
judgment of reason, we also hope that these limits will increase its virtues, and 
that genius restrained by proper rules will acquire greater concentration, depth 
and force. It is true that we are tired of the individualist spirit, which rejects 
tradition, teaching and discipline and considers the artist as a kind of demi-god, 
whose caprice defies rules. It is true that this falsehood, initially our own, has 



¥ 



Ia Classicism and Originality 53 

become intolerable to us. However, we still maintain, from our Symbolist point 
of view, that the work of art is a general translation of individual emotions. 
The new order that we have discerned, born out of the experiences and the 
theories of 1890, born from anarchy itself, is based on a subordination of the 
faculties one to another. At the bottom level one always finds sensation; it 
proceeds from particular sensibility to general reason. One would not know how 
to look for the subject of a work of art except in individual perception, in the 
spontaneous perception of a relation, of an equivalence between certain states 
of the soul and certain plastic signs which they necessarily translate. The novelty 
consists in thinking that this type of symbolism, far from being incompatible 
with the classical method, can renew the effectiveness of that method and draw 
admirable developments from it. Not the least advantage of our system is the 
fact that the basis for a very objective art, a very general and plastic language, 
even a classical art, is the most subjective and the most subtle aspect of the 
human soul, the most mysterious spirit of our inner life. 



9 Julius Meier-Graefe (1867-1935) 'The Mediums of 
Art, Past and Present' 

From the opening chapter of Modern Art: Being a Contribution to a New System of 
Aesthetics, originally published in German as Entwickelungsgeschichte der modernen 
Kunst, 1904. Meier-Graefe's thoughtful and pioneering work helped decide the terms of 
reference in which the historical development of modern art was conceived by sub- 
sequent writers. The present text is taken from the translation by F. Simmonds and 
G. Chrystal, London and New York, 1908. 



I 

Our collective artistic culture was bound to suffer, when the collective forces 
of art were concentrated in a special domain, that of pictures and statues. The 
fact is not minimized by the consideration, that this development was the work 
of a glorious history, originating in the most brilliant phases of modern culture. 
Nor can it be denied that the most splendid epochs of humanity achieved their 
great results without the omnipotence of pictures. [ . . . ] 

In these days, the pure work of art has been brought into immediate contact 
with every-day life; an attempt has been made to transform it utterly, to make 
it the medium of the aesthetic aspirations of the house, whereas this function 
belongs properly to the house itself and the utilitarian objects in it. We have 
tried to popularize the highest expression of art, something only significant 
when applied to the loftiest purposes, something, the enjoyment of which 
without a certain solemnity is inconceivable, or, at least, only to be attained in 
moments of peculiar detachment. We have succeeded merely in vulgarizing it. 

This is the source of the great error that retards our artistic culture. We 
revolve in vicious circles round the abstract work of art. 



54 The Legacy of Symbolism 

The painted or carved image is in its nature immovable. Not only because it 
was originally composed for a given space, but because the world of emotion 
to which it belongs lies wholly apart. This may be so powerful, that its 
association with the things of daily life cannot be effected without serious 
damage either to the one or the other. 

The association of works of art with religious worship was therefore the most 
natural association possible. A heavenly illumination, itself possessed of all the 
attributes of divinity, art gave impetus to the soul in its aspirations towards the 
mystic, its flight from the sufferings of daily life, and offered the best medium 
possible for that materialization of the divine idea, which the primitive man 
demands in religion. The ancient Greek worship, with its natural, purely 
sensuous conceptions, was the happiest basis for the artist, for in Greece religion 
and art were one thing: beauty. The god was the ideal of beauty. 

When the temple became a church, art lost its original purity, and became 
the handmaid of the hierarchy. But religion was so deeply implanted in the 
souls of the faithful, that both to executant and recipient the service never lost 
the mystic atmosphere, the common bond, and all hostile antagonism was 
avoided. It was the Reformation that first drove the image from the temple, 
and gave to worship a form, the austerity of which excluded any sensuous 
enjoyment. 

This was one of the many contributory impulses that brought about the 
confusion of aesthetics. Art was so closely bound up with religion, that it almost 
seemed as if the enlightenment that shattered the one, must be dangerous to 
the other. The mysticism of art and that of religion had formerly mingled their 
currents. As a fact, the former was no less obscure than the latter - who can 
say even now, what the essence of art is? But the pious and sometimes beautiful 
fable of religion had to perish, to make way, not for Luther's compromise, but 
for something radically opposite, science, by which the raison d'etre of art 
remained unaffected. Indeed, as science could not satisfy the mystic yearnings 
of the soul, the sphere of art was, if possible, extended, though it could no 
longer be restricted to conventional forms. 

The emancipation of man from the dogmas of the church was an advance. In 
the domain of art, where it destroyed the fixed convention as to subject, it 
might have become beneficent. But as a fact, it entailed retrogression. Painting 
was not yet strong enough to stand alone, or perhaps it was already enervated; 
instead, now that it was free from all objective constraint, of rising to the heights 
of pure art, sustained by its own convention alone, it gradually became vul- 
garized, and finally fell into perplexities from which it had been preserved in 
the early ages of culture; 

A three-fold watchword inspired the political and social contests of the new 
age: Freedom, Truth, Equality. We think we have the first two; and our 
generation is warring for a verdict as to the third. 

Art thought herself bound to take part in the contest. As on other battlefields, 
the three sections of the ideal were upheld simultaneously, and as in these 
again, the fight was sharpest and most decisive over the first two, Freedom 
and Truth. 



Ia Classicism and Originality 55 

Broadly speaking, the trilogy, taken absolutely, is Utopian, and even nonsen- 
sical; but in social matters, the ideal regulates itself in a rational manner. In 
art, where such was not the case, where the extravagance of the postulate was 
far in excess of its good sense, it worked most mischievously. 

Art was to be free - but free from what? The innovators forgot, that freedom 
implies isolation. In her impulsive vehemence, art cast away the elements that 
made her indispensable to man. The vaster the wide ocean of unbounded aims 
before her, the more distant was the terra firma which had been her home. She 
lost her native land. 

* * * 

It was only in those earlier days, when proprietary rights were not associated 

with art, that the relation of the layman thereto approached the socialistic ideal. 

Art was for all, for it belonged to no one. It stood above individual greed, a 

highly communistic symbol in an age that in all else was far indeed from the 

socialism of our day. Now it has become the expression of our terrible class 

distinctions. It is only accessible to an aristocracy, whose domination is the more 

sinister, in that it is not based solely on rank and wealth, that is to say, on 

things by the division of which the ardent socialist hopes to re-establish the 

social equilibrium. There is nothing so unattainable, for the enjoyment of it 

presupposes an abnormal refinement of aesthetic perception, which has become 

as rare as genius itself. Nowadays, one must not only have a great deal of money 

to buy art, but one must be an exceptional creature, of peculiar gifts, to enjoy 

■:;i it. It exists only for the few, and these are far from being the most admirable 

£ or beneficent of mankind; they seem, indeed, to show all the characteristics of 

H the degenerate. Loftiness of character, or of intelligence, are not essential to the 

| comprehension of art. The greatest men of our age have notoriously known 

I nothing about it, and what is more remarkable, artists themselves often under- 

V stand it least of all. Artists have talked more nonsense about art than any other 

class of men. Modern artistic culture can scarcely be accounted an indispensable 

element of general culture any longer, for the simple reason that art has ceased 

to play a part in the general organism. 

* * * 



II 

The incomprehensibility of painting and sculpture to the general public has 
been shrouded in a veil of pretentious exposition. The amount of talking and 
writing about art in our day exceeds that in all other epochs put together. The 
increase of sociability rising from increase of wealth made it necessary to invent 
suitable occupations for unproductive energies. Chatter about art became a 
highly popular form of such amusement; it requires no special preparation, no 
exertion, is independent of weather and seasons, and can be practised in 
drawing-rooms! Art has become like caviare - everyone wants to have it, whether 
they like it or not. The immaterial elements of the former give a certain 
intellectual tone to the sport, which is lacking in a feast of caviare; it is therefore 
complacently opposed to such material enjoyments. [. . .] 



Ill, 



56 The Legacy of Symbolism 

Love of art, however, especially the kind of love that goes beyond platonic 
limits, becomes rarer as those who meddle with it multiply in every land. 
Purchase has become the touchstone of such affection; like marriage, it is a 
practical token of sentiment, and even to the artist, this evidence is generally 
more important than the impulse that inspired it. 

It can hardly be otherwise now. If art is to be anything, it must not arouse 
merely that languid attention which people manifest when they politely approve 
something as 'very interesting.' It is not enough that it should inspire the pens 
of scribblers, and develop itself alone, and not others. In the form to which it 
is confined today - that of picture or statue, a marketable commodity - it could 
only exercise an influence by fulfilling the purpose of other marketable things: 
that of being purchased. But the popularization of art is rendered impossible 
by the extravagant prices commanded by recognized works of art and demanded 
for those that are not so recognized, by a frantic, absurd, and unhappily, 
thoroughly dishonest traffic. I can conceive of rich people who would refrain 
from the purchase of pictures out of sheer disgust at the trade, a desire to keep 
their hands clean. The purchasing amateur is a personality made up of the most 
obscure springs of action. The absolutely incalculable fluctuations in prices, the 
influence of fashion, nowhere so demented as in this connection, the desire to 
go on improving his collection, i.e., to bring it up to the fashionable standard 
of the moment, forces the collector to be always selling, to become the 
shamefaced dealer, who is, of course, the most shameless, and who introduces 
additional elements of disorder into a commerce already chaotic. The result is 
that there are, as a fact, no buyers, but only dealers, people who pile their 
pictures one above the other, deal exclusively, or almost exclusively, with each 
other, and have no connection with the real public. Statistics, showing how few 
are the hands to which the immense artistic wealth of the world is confined, 
would make a sensation. A great London dealer once told me that he had only 
three customers! Durand-Ruel, of Paris, has several times had certain famous 
Impressionist pictures in his possession at progressive prices, rising some 1000 
per cent each time, and the purchasers have often been the same persons on 
several occasions. 

Such conditions reduce the aesthetic usefulness of a work to a minimum. 
Pictures become securities, which can be kept locked up like papers. Even the 
individual, the owner, ceases to enjoy his possession. Nine-tenths of the most 
precious French pictures are kept for nine-tenths of the year in magnificent 
cases, to protect them from dust. Sales are effected as on the Bourse, and 
speculation plays an important part in the operations. The goods are scarcely 
seen, even at the sale. A typical, but by no means unique, example is afforded 
by the late Forbes collection. It consisted of I forget how many hundreds or 
thousands of pictures. To house them, the owner rented the upper storey of 
one of the largest London railway stations, vast storehouses, but all too 
circumscribed to allow of the hanging of the pictures. They stood in huge stacks 
against the walls, one behind the other: the Israels, Mauves, and Marises were 
to be counted by hundreds, the French masters of 1830 by dozens; there were 
exquisite examples of Millet, Corot, Daubigny, Gourbet, &c, and Whistler. 



Ia Classicism and Originality 57 

Although the stacks of pictures were held up by muscular servants, the 
enjoyment of these treasures was a tremendously exhausting physical process. 
One walked between pictures; one felt capable of walking calmly over them! 
After five minutes in the musty atmosphere, goaded by the idiotic impulse to 
see as much as possible, and the irritating consciousness that it was impossible 
to grasp anything, every better instinct was stifled by an indifference that 
quenched all power of appreciation. The deathly calm one broke in upon, as 
one toiled sweating through these bare gigantic rooms where there was no space 
to turn, the whistling of the engines, the trembling of the floor as the trains 
ran in and out below, seemed to inspire a kind of strange fury, a silent longing 
to destroy the whole lot. 

Who would be the loser if this were actually done? If anything could justify 
anarchism, it is the knowledge that the greatest artists toil in poverty, to enable 
a few dealers to grow rich after their deaths, and a few fanatics to hoard their 
works in warehouses. The most notorious vices are not so grotesquely irrational 
as this mania for hoarding, which, owing to its apparent innocuousness, has not 
yet been recognised as a malady. All the famous collectors of Paris, London, 
and America are more or less tainted with this disease. We enter their houses 
full of eager anticipation, and quit them with a sigh of relief, half suffocated 
by the pictures that cover every inch of wall-space, and wholly depressed, not 
by a feeling of envy, but by the thought that there are people who have 
voluntarily accepted the torture of spending their lives among all these things. 

Even if a wiser economy should improve the conditions we have described, 
it will never be possible to induce a better appreciation of art by commercial 
means. Hence all the fine ideas of 'popular art' are doomed to remain mere 
dreams. It is materially impossible to produce pure works of art at prices that 
will bring them within the means of the masses. [. . .] 
* * * 



ni 

* * * 

The dwelling-house of to-day has lost its formal relation to the age. Save for 
non-social, practical considerations, which express themselves in a certain com- 
fort and in the employment of space to the best advantage, it shows a lack of 
cohesion with our lives. Contrary to the usage of former times, our sphere of 
action is now generally outside our houses. This action itself has changed, no 
less than its field; mental effort tends more and more to take the place of 
physical exertion. The men whose activity is most prolific in these days, that 
is, whose wills have the strongest influence upon production, use their limbs 
and muscles the least. The intellectual apparatus accordingly requires care and 
protection in its leisure. 

The dwelling has become a place of recuperation, and this determines the 
character of the busy man's domicile. 

As places of recuperation, our dwellings have, as a fact, become better adapted 
for artistic elements, and even for abstract works of art. We may for the moment 



58 The Legacy of Symbolism 

set aside the dismal fact that the pure work of art is generally the only artistic 
thing in the house, and quite without relation to all the rest. Such conditions 
only make it the more essential, if man is not to renounce every loftier stimulus 
from without. But if the work in the house is to have any influence, in conditions 
so far removed from those of the earlier vehicles of art, it must be subordinated 
to these new conditions. It is not the chief object that draws us to the place 
containing it, as in the case of a museum; we do not approach it with the 
devoutness of the soul athirst for mystic rapture, as formerly in a church. 
Comfort is the essential in this modern shrine, and a picture that disturbs our 
sense of well-being is clearly out of place in a house. 

This sense of comfort is certainly not to be satisfied merely by artistic 
qualities. The very works that make the deepest impression upon us, are least 
adapted to domestic combination, because the sensuous value that might promote 
satisfaction, is present in them in forms unsuitable to our four walls or our 
hundred prepossessions. There are things one admires, and others one wishes 
to possess. That which decides between them is a whole world, and not a kind 
of hygiene, which teaches us to live with certain sensations, because they demand 
intellectual effort and sacrifice. 

Art under such conditions ceases to be divine; she is no longer the enchantress 
who brings men to their knees before her, but rather a gentle little housewife, 
who surrounds us with tender attentions, and eagerly produces the sort of things 
that will distract tired people after a day's work. 

Such a function is beneath the dignity of art. She could not accept it, if she 
was to remain what she had been in the past. It did not embrace her whole 
domain; it belongs by right to utilitarian art. 

[ . . . ] If the uses of art change, art itself must change. If it cannot have the 
place it requires, it becomes meaningless. If it stands alone, it perishes. To 
restrict our artistic requirements to abstract painting and sculpture is a folly of 
the same order as that of the madman in the fable, who wished that everything 
he touched might turn to gold. Abstract art is a holiday delight. We are not a 
race of pleasure-seekers, and we are proud to say so. Our most rational idea is 
to divide, not wealth, but work, to see an era when there will be no drones, 
when every one will exert himself for the common good. In such a state the 
amateur will cease to exist. 



IV 

For what then do artists create, pending what is generally the posthumous 
consummation - that accumulation of their works described above? 

Some for an unattainable object, every step towards which is marked by tears 
and blood, an ideal that can only be described in somewhat metaphysical 
rhetoric: the satisfaction of a conscience that has no relation to extrinsic things, 
of a supernal ambition, grandiose and dazzling in its conscious determination, 
in its consistent effort towards the elusive goal, amazing in the unconsciousness 
with which it achieves results that would seem only possible to the most 
strenuous toil. Creation for the sake of creation. 



Ia Classicism and Originality 59 

A far-seeing idealism sustains them, the hope that they will succeed in giving 
a new form of beauty. A blind optimism leads them, even when most neglected, 
to believe that they will be appreciated by some, that some will share the new 
joys they have discovered. And when the futility of such hopes is demonstrated, 
when they see their works passed over, or, worse still, bought by purchasers 
who have none of that intimate delight in their creations on which they had 
counted, they withdraw into themselves and do their greatest work. 

Sometimes that which appears to them in their confident self-knowledge their 
greatest work, is recognized by the enlightened at last, and becomes an eternal 
possession, a lasting element in after generations of artists, in whose works it 
lives in another form, completed by new achievement. It passes into the artistic 
heritage of the nation, and finally plays its part in national culture. Others fail; 
not that their self-knowledge is at fault, but that their talent or their intelligence 
falls short. Their numeric preponderance is so great, that they completely crowd 
out the few, and the limited demand of the public for pictures is supplied almost 
exclusively by them. I suppose that to every thousand painters of the one class, 
there is not more than one of the other. Imagine such a proportion in any other 
calling! The artist can mislead the public more easily than can a man of any 
other profession, for setting aside the affinity of the herd for all that is 
superficial, a sort of halo surrounds the painter; he profits by a number of 
institutions very favourable to mediocrity, which give a certain importance to 
the metier as such, and are readily turned to account by the adroit. 

Foremost among these is the art-exhibition, an institution of a thoroughly 
bourgeois nature, due to the senseless immensity of the artistic output, and the 
consequent urgency of showing regularly what has been accomplished in the 
year. This institution may be considered the most important artistic medium of 
our age. [. . .] 

Artists acquiesce in the system, because if they held aloof, their last means 
of expression would be denied them. They want, at least, to let their work be 
seen, and see it themselves, even among that of a thousand others, even for a 
few months, even under barbaric conditions. What becomes of it after the 
exhibition is indifferent to them. It is enough if the picture fulfils its purpose 
at the exhibition, attracts attention, is discussed by the critics, and, perhaps, 
even - this is the culminating distinction! - receives a medal. 

To secure these results in competition with the thousands who are bent on 
the same ends, it is above all things necessary that a picture should have certain 
qualities that distinguish it from the rest. If the artist is bold enough, he makes 
it very large, or at all events very insistent, that it may strike the eye, even if 
badly hung. 

It is obvious that under such conditions the purpose achieved by competition 
in other domains - that of promoting the selection of the best - can never be 
fulfilled. A variety of those base impulses, which always urge on the compact 
majority against the loftier individuality, play their part in the result. Rarely, 
indeed, has a genius been brought to light through these channels. The greater 
artists avoid these exchanges, and even the amateur does not frequent them, 
since quantity is not the only thing he craves. 



60 The Legacy of Symbolism 

The remnant of artistic sensibility that lingers in our age bids fair to be 
systematically crushed out by these exhibitions. If perchance any of the palatial 
barracks that house them should survive for posterity, they will be more 
damaging to us than any other relic. There will be persons who will go through 
these galleries in the spirit in which we visit ruined castles, and the rusty 
picture-hooks will be to them like gruesome instruments of torture. 

Pictures once hung on these hooks . . . 

This is the end of the history of pictures. We have, at least, the comfort of 
knowing that we can sink no lower. Once the symbol of the holiest, diffusing 
reverence in the church, and standing above mankind like the Divinity itself, 
the picture has become the diversion of an idle moment; the church is now a 
booth in a fair; the worshippers of old are frivolous chatterers. 



Ia Classicism and Originality 61 

[realized that every corner of the palace, every column, every window possessed 
|g spirit, an impenetrable soul. I looked around at the marble heroes, motionless 
pi the lucid air, beneath the frozen rays of that winter sun which pours down 
pn us without love, like perfect song. A bird was warbling in a window cage. 
||it that moment I grew aware of the mystery which urges men to create certain 
jpfrange forms. And the creation appeared more ^extraordinary than the creators. 
|V. Perhaps the most amazing sensation passed on to us by prehistoric man is 
at of presentiment. It will always continue. We might consider it as an eternal 
^roof of the irrationality of the universe. Original man must have wandered 
tirough a world full of uncanny signs. He must have trembled at each step. 



10 Giorgio de Chirico (1888-1978) 'Mystery and 
Creation' 

Although of an Italian family, de Chirico was Greek by birth and upbringing, with a 
consequent familiarity with the classical heritage. He studied in Munich, where he was 
attracted to the painting of Boecklin and Klinger and the philosophy of Schopenhauer 
and Nietzsche. In Paris from 191 1 to the outbreak of war he developed his 'Metaphysical 
painting': a self-consciously enigmatic type of picture clearly inviting Freudian forms of 
interpretation. The present text was written during this phase and before his return to 
Italy in 1915. It was first published by Andre Breton in his Surrealism and Painting, 
Paris, 1928. The present translation is taken from the London Bulletin (an organ of the 
Surrealist movement in England), no. 6, October 1938, p. 14. 

To become truly immortal a work of art must escape all human limits: logic 
and common sense will only interfere. But once these barriers are broken it will 
enter the regions of childhood vision and dream. 

Profound statements must be drawn by the artist from the most secret recesses 
of his being; there no murmuring torrent, no birdsong, no rustle of leaves can 
distract him. 

What I hear is valueless; only what I see is living, and when I close my eyes 
my vision is even more powerful. 

It is most important that we should rid art of all that it has contained of 
recognizable material to date, all familiar subject matter, all traditional ideas, all 
popular symbols must be banished forthwith. More important still, we must 
hold enormous faith in ourselves: it is essential that the revelation we receive, 
the conception of an image which embraces a certain thing, which has no sense 
in itself, which has no subject, which means absolutely nothing from the logical 
point of view, I repeat, it is essential that such a revelation or conception should 
speak so strongly in us, evoke such agony or joy, that we feel compelled to 
paint, compelled by an impulse even more urgent than the hungry desperation 
which drives a man to tearing at a piece of bread like a savage beast. 

I remember one vivid winter's day at Versailles. Silence and calm reigned 
supreme. Everything gazed at me with mysterious, questioning eyes. And then 



¥'- 

fa- 

¥'■ 

fit.- 



IB 

Expression and the Primitive 



1 August Endell (1871-1925) The Beauty of Form 
and Decorative Art' 

Endell was an architect and designer associated with the Jugendstil tendency. In 
writings published in Munich at the turn of the century he advanced the idea of a new 
visual art, justified by analogy with music, which would be both abstract and expressive. 
The present essay was originally published in Dekorative Kunst, I, Munich, 1897-8, pp. 
75-7, 119-25; the translation is taken from T. and C. Benton and D. Sharp (eds.), 
Form and Function, London, 1975. 

In the ever more vehement yearning for a new style in architecture and applied 
art, and in the new, original and independent style of decoration, the dissonant 
warning voices of the cautious can be heard. From the dizzy heights of their 
experience, they smile down sympathetically upon the foolish exploits of their 
juniors and still remain ready to show to the general public the only path of 
truth. They teach us that there can be no new form, that all possibilities have 
been exhausted in the styles of the past, and that all art lies in an individually 
modified use of old forms. It even extends to selling the pitiful eclecticism of 
the last decades as the new style. 

To those with understanding, this despondency is simply laughable. For they 
can clearly see, that we are not only at the beginning of a new stylistic phase, 
but at the same time on the threshold of the development of a completely new 
Art. An Art with forms which signify nothing, represent nothing and remind 
us of nothing, which arouse our souls as deeply and as strongly as music has 
always been able to do. 

The barbarian finds our music distasteful; culture and education are necessary 
for its full appreciation. Appreciation of visual form is also something that must 
be acquired. We must learn to see it and really immerse ourselves in form. We 
must discover how to use our eyes. It may well be that man has for a long time 
delighted in form subconsciously. In the history of the fine arts this development 
can be clearly studied but it has not yet reached the point where it has finally 
taken root never to be forgotten. Painters have taught us a great deal, but their 
primary aim has always been colour, and where they were concerned with form, 



#; 
£ 



Ib Expression and the Primitive 63 

they mainly searched for the conceptual quality by the exact reproduction of 
the object, and not the aesthetic quality, which nature only rarely and by chance 
offers in the dimensions which the painter requires. 

If we wish to understand and appreciate formal beauty we must learn to see 
in a detailed way. We must concentrate on the details, on the form of the root 
of a tree, on the way in which a leaf is connected to its stalk, on the structure 
of the bark, on the lines made by the turbid spray on the shores of a lake. Also 
we must not just glance carelessly at the form. Our eye must trace, minutely, 
every curve, every twist, every thickening, every contraction, in short we must 
experience every nuance in the form. For there is only one point in our field 
of vision which we can see exactly, and it is only that which is clearly seen, 
which can hold some meaning for us. If we see in this way, an immensely rich 
new world is revealed to us, full of totally new experience. A thousand sensations 
are awakened within us. New feelings and shades of feeling, continual unex- 
pected transformations. Nature seems to live and we begin to understand that 
there really are sorrowing trees and wicked treacherous branches, virginal grasses 
and terrible, gruesome flowers. Of course, not everything is going to affect us 
in this way, there are also things which are boring, meaningless and ineffectual, 
but the alert eye will everywhere observe forms of superb, soul-shattering 
magnificence. 

This is the power of form upon the mind, a direct, immediate influence 
without any intermediary stage, by no means an anthropomorphic effect, but 
one of direct empathy. If we speak of a sorrowing tree, we do not at all think 
of the tree as a living being which sorrows, but mean only that it awakens the 
feeling of sorrow within us. Or when we say that the pine tree aspires upwards 
we do not animate the pine tree. It is just that the expression, of the act of 
aspiring, produces more easily in the mind of the listener a clearer image of 
verticality. We are employing nothing more than a verbal aid to make up for 
an inadequate vocabulary and to produce a living concept more quickly. 

'How can the feelings aroused by form be explained?' is a question voiced 
most loudly by those who have never experienced them. I could answer, that 
there is no place for this here, that one can enjoy music without having to know 
why the chords can possibly move us so greatly. But in order to pacify those 
who doubt and to pave their way into the world of form, I should like to attempt 
to describe the emotive effect of the elements of form and their constituent 
parts, and also to at least outline the psychological explanation, so far as is 
possible without lengthy discussion ... 

The straight line is not only mathematically but also aesthetically superior to 
all other lines. If we follow a straight line, for instance the vertical, with our 
eyes, this always retains the same direction in our field of vision. In contrast 
to this, a curved line, perhaps that of a round-headed archway for instance, 
alters its shape continually: first vertical, then slanting upwards, then horizontal, 
then slanting down and finally descending vertically. Whereas during the 
observation of curved lines there is always something new to grasp, the straight 
line always looks the same. As we look, our perception is quickened, and this 



64 The Legacy of Symbolism 

is accelerated, the further the straight line extends, since every extra second of 
looking appears to add nothing to our perception. But since more familiar things 
are grasped more readily still, urging the eye on, the speed with which we 
perceive a straight line rises continuously. 

Every quick motion gives us a certain feeling which we will call for the 
moment 'the feeling of speed'. The straight line awakes this feeling in us; it 
looks quick and the more so the longer it is. The width of the straight line, 
however - we are here speaking of real and not mathematical lines - has the 
effect of slowing it down. For a wide straight line requires more time for it to 
be appreciated than a narrow one, since it requires more perception. The straight 
line therefore appears faster or slower depending on whether it is narrow or 
broad. 

The effect of direction is of a completely different nature. The vertically 
descending straight line (i.e. the straight line which we follow from the top 
downwards) has a light and effortless effect. The horizontal has a quiet strength, 
and the vertically ascending line gives the effect of strong exertion. The slanting 
positions, slanting downwards or upwards, offer intermediary nuances, so that 
we have a continual table of characteristics stretching from a feeling of minimum 
effort to the strongest feeling of all. This emotional appeal is probably based 
on the fact that directing the eye upwards requires more effort than looking 
downwards. The reason for this is not quite clear. The mid-point of the eye is 
in front of the pivoting point, and probably of the centre of gravity. This in 
fact would mean that raising the eyeball requires effort but that lowering it 
does not. Besides this, certain assumptions about the processes in the retina 
enable us to give a second reason for the emotional effect which we are 
discussing. This however can only be developed in a more comprehensive 
description. [ . . . ] 

Straightforwardness, sincerity, warmth, solemnity, profundity and sublimity 
all have a slow tempo in common, whereas frivolity, provocation, arrogance, 
harshness, violence and savagery are transmitted to us by speed and suddenness. 
In both cases, however, there is a step by step gradation of tension, effort, force, 
intensity or whatever one wishes to call it. An element of lightness and 
effortlessness is present in all simplicity and frivolity, whereas that which is 
savage or inspired calls forth within us extremes of effort. And just as with 
these extremes, there is a certain tempo for every emotion and a corresponding 
degree of exertion. We have attempted in the accompanying Table to organize 
the main nuances of emotion. In the horizontal rows, the effort rises from left 
to right whereas it is the tempo which rises in the vertical lines from bottom 
to top. The inner rectangle contains feelings of gaiety, those outside it are 
feelings of apathy. Apathy results in us from everything which is too weak or 
too strong, too slow or too fast for our endurance . . . 

And because all sensations are only tempo and tension, form is able to awaken 
all shades of emotion within us. For we saw that the straight line always awoke 
within us not only these two kinds of sensation, but indeed every other possible 
variety. [ . . . ] 




Ib Expression and the Primitive 65 



Malicious 


Scornful 


Haughty 


Pathetic Frigid 


Pitiless 


Cruel 


Terrible 
Hideous 


Facetious 


Frivolous 


Provocative 


Arrogant Harsh 


Violent 


Savage 


Coquettish 


Chic 


Ebulliant 


Daring Reckless 


Majestic 


Awesome 


Dreadful 


Affected 


Gracious 


Elegant 


Energetic Vigorous 


Firm 


Brutal 


Bestial 


Sweet 

Insipid 

Vacuous 


Dainty 

Delicate 

Straight- 
forward 


Flexible 
Devoted 
Sincere 


Fiery Strong Rugged 
Generous Distinguished Mighty 
Warm Solemn Profound 


Powerful 

Monstrous 

Sublime 


Frightful 

Awful 

Gruesome 

Desperate 


Dim 


Weak 


Tired 


Troubled Sad 


Melancholic 


Sombre 



Light 



EFFORT 



ft [It is impossible, of course, to translate the German words precisely: this Table is intended 
essence of EndelPs idea.] 



Heavy 

to give the 



:% 



2 Andre Derain (1880-1954) Letters to Vlaminck 

The painters Derain and Vlaminck were both involved with the 'Fauve' tendency in France 
in the first decade of the century. In these letters, written in 1905 and 1909, Derain 
addresses the common ground of an interest in heightened pictorial colour, conceived 
; as a strong form of response to naturalistic effects. Originally published in A. Derain, 
Lettres a Vlaminck, Paris, 1955, from which this translation is made. 



Estaque [undated, 1905] 

[. . .] I sense that I am moving towards something better, where colourfulness 
counts for less than it did last year, so that more time can be spent on the issue 
of painting itself 

We are at a truly arduous stage of the problem. I am so lost that I ask myself 
in what words I can explain this to you ... If one does not attempt decorative 
art, all one can do is increasingly to purify the transposition of nature. We 
didn't do this on purpose, solely for the sake of colour. The design runs parallel. 
Many things are lacking in our idea of our art. 

All in all, I can see no future except in composition, because in working from 
nature I am a slave to such stupid things that my emotions feel the repercussions 
of it. I don't see the future as corresponding to our trends; on the one hand, 
we are trying to disengage ourselves from objective things, and on the other 
hand, we retain them as both origin and final aim. No, honestly, if I stand back, 
I do not see in the least what I should do in order to be logical. 

To compose visually, to amuse oneself in composing pictures like Denis, which 
are things one can see, is ultimately nothing but the transposition of a theatrical 
set. I think that the problem is rather to group forms in the light and to 
harmonize them simultaneously with the materials available. [. . .] 

Collioure, 28 July 1905 

I have so many things to tell you that I don't know which should be first. I 
am taking advantage of the rain to write to you, because usually there is a 



66 The Legacy of Symbolism 

radiant sun which exasperates me by increasing the difficulties I have with 
synthesis, and also by complicating the acrobatics I attempt on the subject of 
light - so far as this concerns my experiments. 
My trip has helped on two major points: 

1 A new concept of light, which consists in the following: the negation of 
shadow. Here, the light is very strong, the shadows very clear. Shadows are a 
world of clarity and luminosity which is opposed to the sunlight: a world which 
one calls reflections. 

Until now we have neglected both of these, and in the future, there will be 
a recovery of the expressive dimension of composition. 

2 To know, in the company of Matisse, how to eradicate all division of tone. 
He continues; but I have completely abandoned it, and hardly use it any more. 
It's logical in a luminous and harmonious panel. But it damages things which 
draw their expressive power from deliberate dissonances. 

It's ultimately a world which self-destructs when pushed to the absolute. I'm 
hurrying back to my work for the Independents, which is, all in all, the most 
logical from my point of view and which accords perfectly with my means of 
expression. 

I would also like to resume my work in oil, because the events of each day 
only serve to give solid form to my first ideas. [. . .] 

1909 

[. . .] I'm piling up a lot of notes which may be of use to you. It's a shame 
that you can only spend eight days here. These landscape 'landscapes' are 
wonderful and would really please you. As for the atmosphere, it's fine, fine 
and colourful! . . . 

Nevertheless, I'm going to do some landscapes, but against my will, almost. 
I don't feel the need for landscapes, nor for portraits, nor for still lifes. I've 
had wonderful feelings, whose grandeur can only be matched by a total 
possession of forms, which I use equally to create the grandeur. It's very difficult 
to possess a landscape. 

But it's easier to create a harmonious shape, which in its very essence carries 
its own title, creating it through those affections one has felt in the physical 
world. 

What Delacroix said is true: 'Nature is a dictionary; one draws words from 
it.' But more important than the dictionary is the will to write, the unity of 
our own thought; this is nothing other than the translation in spatial form of 
our virility, of our cowardice, of our sensitivity and of our intelligence. All of this, 
amalgamated, constitutes this personality which is realized in a shaped form. 

Thus, for my painting for the Independents, must it have been better that it 
was? No, it would have spoken more absolutely in its intention, if it hadn't kept 
being so confident about the direction it was heading in. 

I think it's a mistake to pretend we only have a good side; showing our faults 
and our incapacities is the best statement of absolute value to our neighbour. 



Ib Expression and the Primitive 67 

So, while my canvas is not what it should have been, it's enough for another 
to understand that it is mine alone. It's already something! 

. . . You are only good for decorative art! Good, that's perfectly all right. But 
my intelligence and my will create a reality, showing that they want to exceed 
the gifts which have been given to me. 

Even if I don't create an absolute for myself, I at least give it my all, the 
equal to what I understand, and what I want. 

It would take a long time to write to you about this. But this interests me 
beyond all measure. I want to talk to you about what interests me, the modern 
view of life. I think about it intensely here. It seems to me that everything 
converges on (or coincides with?) the search for happiness. Now, one can be 
disinterested, in an absolute way, living above and beyond joy or unhappiness; 
that does sometimes happen to great artistic emotions. But when you come back 
down to earth, you feel it all the more. To the maximum of joy corresponds 
the maximum of unhappiness. 

Only one thing can save painting, and that's the joke. The joke shines through 
everything. The joke is all-powerful. With the joke one can pull through 
anything. Basically one is often very bored; but one manages to interest the 
spirit in the mask that one attaches to it. That's the most wonderful thing. But 
what ... to joke about something from frustration . . . what happens afterwards 
is, you joke about your spirit itself. 

From another point of view, greatness, great size is a stupid thing. What is 
a thing of great stature, of sentimental nobility, of great enthusiasm? If it wants 
to be thus, then it's stupid. 

We are too uncertain of the progress of ideas in our era to desire a definite 
character. We have to submit to unconsciousness. As for the result, we cannot 
learn from our own lessons. 

Similarly, it's ridiculous to want to adopt an attitude; it's necessary to follow 
life with kindness, drawing the maximum pleasure from that which surrounds 
you. When I say 'pleasure' I don't mean you have to be physically happy. I 
speak above all, of the assessment of this pleasure. [ . . . ] 



3 Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880-1934) Programme of 
the Briicke 

The Brucke (The Bridge) was the name adopted by an avant-garde group founded in 
Dresden in 1905. The artists originally involved were Kirchner, K. Schmidt-Rottluff, E. 
Heckel and F. Bleyl. Together with the Munich-based Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider), 
The Brucke represented the Expressionist tendency in German art. The programme was 
first published in 1906 as a woodcut broadsheet to accompany the Brucke exhibition 
at the Seifert factory, Dresden. The present text is translated from the woodcut. 

With faith in progress and in a new generation of creators and spectators we 
call together all youth. As youth, we carry the future and want to create for 
ourselves freedom of life and of movement against the long established older 



68 The Legacy of Symbolism 

forces. Everyone who reproduces that which drives him to creation with 
directness and authenticity belongs to us. 

4 Wilhelm Worringer (1881-1965) from Abstraction 
and Empathy 

Subtitled 'A Contribution to the Psychology of Style', Worringer's essay was written as 
a doctoral thesis in 1906. It was published as Abstraktion und Einfiihlung in Munich by 
Piper Verlag in 1908, and was to be continuously reprinted for over forty years. It was 
influential in countering what Worringer called the 'European-classical prejudice of our 
customary historical conception and valuation of arf. It also furnished theoretical 
support for that widespread Modernist tendency in which enthusiasm for so-called 
primitive art was conjoined with interest in modern forms of abstraction. The present 
text is taken from the opening chapter, in the translation by Michael Bullock of the third 
- 1910 - edition, London and New York, 1953. 

[. . .] Our investigations proceed from the presupposition that the work of art, 
as an autonomous organism, stands beside nature on equal terms and, in its 
deepest and innermost essence, devoid of any connection with it, in so far as 
by nature is understood the visible surface of things. Natural beauty is on no 
account to be regarded as a condition of the work of art, despite the fact that 
in the course of evolution it seems to have become a valuable element in the 
work of art, and to some extent indeed positively identical with it. 

This presupposition includes within it the inference that the specific laws of 
art have, in principle, nothing to do with the aesthetics of natural beauty. It is 
therefore not a matter of, for example, analysing the conditions under which a 
landscape appears beautiful, but of an analysis of the conditions under which 
the representation of this landscape becomes a work of art. 

Modern aesthetics, which has taken the decisive step from aesthetic objectiv- 
ism to aesthetic subjectivism, i.e. which no longer takes the aesthetic as the 
starting-point of its investigations, but proceeds from the behaviour of the 
contemplating subject, culminates in a doctrine that may be characterised by 
the broad general name of the theory of empathy. This theory has been clearly 
and comprehensively formulated in the writings of Theodor Lipps. [. . .] 

... the basic purpose of my essay is to show that this modern aesthetics, 
which proceeds from the concept of empathy, is inapplicable to wide tracts of 
art history. Its Archimedian point is situated at one pole of human artistic feeling 
alone. It will only assume the shape of a comprehensive aesthetic system when 
it has united with the lines that lead from the opposite pole. 

We regard as this counter-pole an aesthetics which proceeds not from man's 
urge to empathy, but from his urge to abstraction. Just as the urge to empathy 
as a pre-assumption of aesthetic experience finds its gratification in the beauty 
of the organic, so the urge to abstraction finds its beauty in the life-denying 
inorganic, in the crystalline or, in general terms, in all abstract law and necessity. 

We shall endeavour to cast light upon the antithetic relation of empathy and 
abstraction, by first characterizing the concept of empathy in a few broad strokes. 



Ib Expression and the Primitive 69 

The simplest formula that expresses this kind of aesthetic experience runs: 
Aesthetic enjoyment is objectified self-enjoyment. To enjoy aesthetically means 
to enjoy myself in a sensuous object diverse from myself, to empathize myself 
into it. 'What I empathize into it is quite generally life. And life is energy, 
inner working, striving and accomplishing. In a word, life is activity. But activity 
is that in which I experience an expenditure of energy. By its nature, this 
activity is an activity of the will. It is endeavour or volition in motion.' [. . .] 

The presupposition of the act of empathy is the general apperceptive activity. 
'Every sensuous object, in so far as it exists for me, is always the product of 
two components, of that which is sensuously given and of my apperceptive 
activity. 1 
* * * 

No psychology of the need for art - in the terms of our modern standpoint: 
of the need for style - has yet been written. It would be a history of the feeling 
about the world and, as such, would stand alongside the history of religion as 
its equal. By the feeling about the world I mean the psychic state in which, at 
any given time, mankind found itself in relation to the cosmos, in relation to 
the phenomena of the external world. This psychic state is disclosed in the 
quality of psychic needs, i.e. in the constitution of the absolute artistic volition, 
and bears outward fruit in the work of art, to be exact in the style of the latter, 
the specific nature of which is simply the specific nature of the psychic needs. 
Thus the various gradations of the feeling about the world can be gauged from 
the stylistic evolution of art, as well as from the theogony of the peoples. 

Every style represented the maximum bestowal of happiness for the humanity 
that created it. This must become the supreme dogma of all objective consider- 
ation of the history of art. What appears from our standpoint the greatest 
distortion must have been at the time, for its creator, the highest beauty and 
the fulfilment of his artistic volition. Thus all valuations made from our 
standpoint, from the point of view of our modern aesthetics, which passes 
judgement exclusively in the sense of the Antique or the Renaissance, are from 
a higher standpoint absurdities and platitudes. [. . .] 

The need for empathy can be looked upon as a presupposition of artistic 
volition only where this artistic volition inclines toward the truths of organic 
life, that is toward naturalism in the higher sense. The sensation of happiness 
that is released in us by the reproduction of organically beautiful vitality, what 
modern man designates beauty, is a gratification of that inner need for self-ac- 
tivation in which Lipps sees the presupposition of the process of empathy. In 
the forms of the work of art we enjoy ourselves. Aesthetic enjoyment is 
objectified self-enjoyment. The value of a line, of a form consists for us in the 
value of the life that it holds for us. It holds its beauty only through our own 
vital feeling, which, in some mysterious manner, we project into it. 

Recollection of the lifeless form of a pyramid or of the suppression of life 
that is manifested, for instance, in Byzantine mosaics tells us at once that here 
the need for empathy, which for obvious reasons always tends toward the 
organic, cannot possibly have determined artistic volition. Indeed, the idea forces 
itself upon us that here we have an impulse directly opposed to the empathy 



70 The Legacy of Symbolism 

impulse, which seeks to suppress precisely that in which the need for empathy 
finds its satisfaction. 

This counter-pole to the need for empathy appears to us to be the urge to 
abstraction. [. . .] 

The extent to which the urge to abstraction has determined artistic volition 
we can gather from actual works of art ... We shall then find that the artistic 
volition of savage peoples, in so far as they possess any at all, then the artistic 
volition of all primitive epochs of art and, finally, the artistic volition of certain 
culturally developed Oriental peoples, exhibit this abstract tendency. Thus the 
urge to abstraction stands at the beginning of every art and in the case of certain 
peoples at a high level of culture remains the dominant tendency, whereas with 
the Greeks and other Occidental peoples, for example, it slowly recedes, making 
way for the urge to empathy. [. . .] 

Now what are the psychic presuppositions for the urge to abstraction? We 
must seek them in these peoples' feeling about the world, in their psychic 
attitude toward the cosmos. Whereas the precondition for the urge to empathy 
is a happy pantheistic relationship of confidence between man and the phenome- 
na of the external world, the urge to abstraction is the outcome of a great inner 
unrest inspired in man by the phenomena of the outside world; in a religious 
respect it corresponds to a strongly transcendental tinge to all notions. We might 
describe this state as an immense spiritual dread of space, f . . .] 

Comparison with the physical dread of open places, a pathological condition 
to which certain people are prone, will perhaps better explain what we mean 
by this spiritual dread of space. In popular terms, this physical dread of open 
places may be explained as a residue from a normal phase of man's development, 
at which he was not yet able to trust entirely to visual impression as a means 
of becoming familiar with a space extended before him, but was still dependent 
upon the assurances of his sense of touch. As soon as man became a biped, and 
as such solely dependent upon his eyes, a slight feeling of insecurity was 
inevitably left behind. In the further course of his evolution, however, man 
freed himself from this primitive fear of extended space by habituation and 
intellectual reflection. 

The situation is similar as regards the spiritual dread of space in relation to 
the extended, disconnected, bewildering world of phenomena. The rationalistic 
development of mankind pressed back this instinctive fear conditioned by man's 
feeling of being lost in the universe. The civilized peoples of the East, whose 
more profound world-instinct opposed development in a rationalistic direction 
and who saw in the world nothing but the shimmering veil of Maya, they alone 
remained conscious of the unfathomable entanglement of all the phenomena of 
life, and all the intellectual mastery of the world-picture could not deceive them 
as to this. Their spiritual dread of space, their instinct for the relativity of all 
that is, did not stand, as with primitive peoples, before cognition, but above 
cognition. 

Tormented by the entangled inter-relationship and flux of the phenomena of 
the outer world, such peoples were dominated by an immense need for tran- 
quillity. The happiness they sought from art did not consist in the possibility 



Ib Expression and the Primitive 71 

of projecting themselves into the things of the outer world, of enjoying 
themselves in them, but in the possibility of taking the individual thing of the 
external world out of its arbitrariness and seeming fortuitousness, of eternalizing 
it by approximation to abstract forms and, in this manner, of finding a point 
of tranquillity and a refuge from appearances. Their most powerful urge was, 
so to speak, to wrest the object of the external world out of its natural context, 
out of the unending flux of being, to purify it of all its dependence upon life, 
i.e. of everything about it that was arbitrary, to render it necessary and 
irrefragable, to approximate it to its absolute value. Where they were successful 
in this, they experienced that happiness and satisfaction which the beauty of 
organic-vital form affords us; indeed, they knew no other beauty, and therefore 
we may term it their beauty. [ . . . ] 

If we accept this proposition ... we are confronted by the following fact: The 
style most perfect in its regularity, the style of the highest abstraction, most 
strict in its exclusion of life, is peculiar to the peoples at their most primitive 
cultural level. A causal connection must therefore exist between primitive culture 
and the highest, purest regular art-form. And the further proposition may be 
stated: The less mankind has succeeded, by virtue of its spiritual cognition, in 
entering into a relation of friendly confidence with the appearance of the outer 
world, the more forceful is the dynamic that leads to the striving after this 
highest abstract beauty. 

;: Not that primitive man sought more urgently for regularity in nature, or 
experienced regularity in it more intensely; just the reverse: it is because he 
stands so lost and spiritually helpless amidst the things of the external world, 
because he experiences only obscurity and caprice in the inter-connection and 
jilux of the phenomena of the external world, that the urge is so strong in him 
to divest the things of the external world of their caprice and obscurity in the 
world-picture and to impart to them a value of necessity and a value of 
regularity. To employ an audacious comparison: it is as though the instinct for 
the 'thing in itself were most powerful in primitive man. Increasing spiritual 
mastery of the outside world and habituation to it mean a blunting and dimming 
.of this instinct. Only after the human spirit has passed, in thousands of years 
of its evolution, along the whole course of rationalistic cognition, does the feeling 
for the 'thing in itself re-awaken in it as the final resignation of knowledge. 
That which was previously instinct is now the ultimate product of cognition. 
Having slipped down from the pride of knowledge, man is now just as lost and 
helpless vis-a-vis the world-picture as primitive man, once he has recognized 
that 'this visible world in which we are is the work of Maya, brought forth by 
magic, a transitory and in itself unsubstantial semblance, comparable to the 
optical illusion and the dream, of which it is equally false and equally true to 
say that it is, as that it is not' (Schopenhauer, Kritik der Kantisehen Philosophie). 
* * * 

In the urge to abstraction the intensity of the self-alienative impulse is . . . 
not characterized, as in the need for empathy, by an urge to alienate oneself 
from individual being, but as an urge to seek deliverance from the fortuitousness 
of humanity as a whole, from the seeming arbitrariness of organic existence in 



72 The Legacy of Symbolism 

general, in the contemplation of something necessary and irrefragable. Life as 
such is felt to be a disturbance of aesthetic enjoyment. [ . . . ] Popular usage 
speaks with striking accuracy of 'losing oneself in the contemplation of a work 
of art. 

In this sense, therefore, it cannot appear over-bold to attribute all aesthetic 
enjoyment - and perhaps even every aspect of the human sensation of happi- 
ness - to the impulse of self-alienation as its most profound and ultimate 
essence. [ . . . ] 

5 Henri Matisse (1869-1954) 'Notes of a Painter' 

A major statement of Matisse's principles as a painter, composed soon after he was 
established as the leader of the 'Fauve' tendency in French painting. The artist took the 
opportunity to defend himself against criticism from the self-styled Sar Peladan, a 
Symbolist painter and Rosicrucian. The 'Notes' provide an important reference for 
modern concepts of artistic expression. Originally published as 'Notes d'un peintre' in 
La Grande Revue, Paris, 25 December 1908. First English translation published in Henri 
Matisse, New York (Museum of Modern Art), 1931. The present translation is taken 
from J. D. Flam, Matisse on Art, London and New York, 1973, pp. 32-40. 

A painter who addresses the public not just in order to present his works, but 
to reveal some of his ideas on the art of painting, exposes himself to several 
dangers. 

In the first place, knowing that many people like to think of painting as an 
appendage of literature and therefore want it to express not general ideas suited 
to pictorial means, but specifically literary ideas, I fear that one will look with 
astonishment upon the painter who ventures to invade the domain of the literary 
man. As a matter of fact, I am fully aware that a painter's best spokesman is : , 
his work. A 

However, such painters as Signac, Desvallieres, Denis, Blanche, Guerin and 
Bernard have written on such matters and been well received by various 
periodicals. Personally, I shall simply try to state my feelings and aspirations as 
a painter without worrying about the writing. 

But now I forsee the danger of appearing to contradict myself. I feel very 
strongly the tie between my earlier and my recent works, but I do not think 
exactly the way I thought yesterday. Or rather, my basic idea has not changed, 
but my thought has evolved, and my modes of expression have followed my 
thoughts. I do not repudiate any of my paintings but there is not one of them 
that I would not redo differently, if I had it to redo. My destination is always 
the same but I work out a different route to get there. 

Finally, if I mention the name of this or that artist it will be to point out 
how our manners differ, and it may seem that I am belittling his work. Thus 
I risk being accused of injustice towards painters whose aims and results I best 
understand, or whose accomplishments I most appreciate, whereas I will have 
used them as examples, not to establish my superiority over them, but to show 
more clearly, through what they have done, what I am attempting to do. 



Ib Expression and the Primitive 73 

What I am after, above all, is expression. Sometimes it has been conceded that 
I have a certain technical ability but that all the same my ambition is limited, 
and does not go beyond the purely visual satisfaction such as can be obtained 
from looking at a picture. But the thought of a painter must not be considered 
as separate from his pictorial means, for the thought is worth no more than its 
expression by the means, which must be more complete (and by complete I do 
not mean complicated) the deeper is his thought. I am unable to distinguish 
between the feeling I have about life and my way of translating it. 

Expression, for me, does not reside in passions glowing in a human face or 
manifested by violent movement. The entire arrangement of my picture is 
expressive: the place occupied by the figures, the empty spaces around them, 
the proportions, everything has its share. Composition is the art of arranging 
in a decorative manner the diverse elements at the painter's command to express 
his feelings. In a picture every part will be visible and will play its appointed 
role, whether it be principal or secondary. Everything that is not useful in the 
picture is, it follows, harmful. A work of art must be harmonious in its entirety: 
any superfluous detail would replace some other essential detail in the mind of 
the spectator. 

Composition, the aim of which should be expression, is modified according 
to the surface to be covered. If I take a sheet of paper of a given size, my 
drawing will have a necessary relationship to its format. I would not repeat this 
drawing on another sheet of different proportions, for example* rectangular 
instead of square. Nor should I be satisfied with a mere enlargement, had I to 
transfer the drawing to a sheet the same shape, but ten times larger. A drawing 
must have an expansive force which gives life to the things around it. An artist 
who wants to transpose a composition from one canvas to another larger one 
must conceive it anew in order to preserve its expression; he must alter its 
character and not just square it up onto the larger canvas. 

Both harmonies and dissonances of colour can produce agreeable effects. Often 
when I start to work I record fresh and superficial sensations during the first 
session. A few years ago I was sometimes satisfied with the result. But today 
if I were satisfied with this, now that I think I can see further, my picture 
would have a vagueness in it: I should have recorded the fugitive sensations of 
a moment which could not completely define my feelings and which I should 
barely recognize the next day. 

I want to reach that state of condensation of sensations which makes a 
painting. I might be satisfied with a work done at one sitting, but I would soon 
tire of it; therefore, I prefer to rework it so that later I may recognize it as 
representative of my state of mind. There was a time when I never left my 
paintings hanging on the wall because they reminded me of moments of 
over-excitement and I did not like to see them again when I was calm. Nowadays 
I try to put serenity into my pictures and re-work them as long as I have not 
succeeded. 

Suppose I want to paint a woman's body: first of all I imbue it with grace 
and charm, but I know that I must give something more. I will condense the 



74 The Legacy of Symbolism 

meaning of this body by seeking its essential lines. The charm will be less 
apparent at first glance, but it must eventually emerge from the new image 
which will have a broader meaning, one more fully human. The charm will 
be less striking since it will not be the sole quality of the painting, but it 
will not exist less for its being contained within the general conception of the 
figure. 

Charm, lightness, freshness - such fleeting sensations. I have a canvas on which 
the colours are still fresh and I begin to work on it again. The tone will no 
doubt become duller. I will replace my original tone with one of greater density, 
an improvement, but less seductive to the eye. 

The Impressionist painters, especially Monet and Sisley, had delicate sensa- 
tions, quite close to each other: as a result their canvases all look alike. The 
word 'impressionism' perfectly characterizes their style, for they register fleeting 
impressions. It is not an appropriate designation for certain more recent painters 
who avoid the first impression, and consider it almost dishonest. A rapid 
rendering of a landscape represents only one moment of its existence [duree]. I 
prefer, by insisting upon its essential character, to risk losing charm in order 
to obtain greater stability. 

Underlying this succession of moments which constitutes the superficial 
existence of beings and things, and which is continually modifying and trans- 
forming them, one can search for a truer, more essential character, which the 
artist will seize so that he may give to reality a more lasting interpretation. 
When we go into the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century sculpture rooms in 
the Louvre and look, for example, at a Puget, we can see that the expression 
is forced and exaggerated to the point of being disquieting. It is quite a different 
matter if we go to the Luxembourg; the attitude in which the sculptors catch 
their models is always the one in which the development of the members and 
tensions of the muscles will be shown to greatest advantage. And yet movement 
thus understood corresponds to nothing in nature: when we capture it by 
surprise in a snapshot, the resulting image reminds us of nothing that we have 
seen. Movement seized while it is going on is meaningful to us only if we do 
not isolate the present sensation either from that which precedes it or that which 
follows it. 

There are two ways of expressing things; one is to show them crudely, the 
other is to evoke them through art. By removing oneself from the literal 
representation of movement one attains greater beauty and grandeur. Look at an 
Egyptian statue: it looks rigid to us, yet we sense in it the image of a body 
capable of movement and which, despite its rigidity, is animated. The Greeks 
too are calm: a man hurling a discus will be caught at the moment in which 
he gathers his strength, or at least, if he is shown in the most strained and 
precarious position implied by his action, the sculptor will have epitomized and 
condensed it so that equilibrium is re-established, thereby suggesting the idea 
of duration. Movement is in itself unstable and is not suited to something 
durable like a statue, unless the artist is aware of the entire action of which he 
represents only a moment. 



■■■*■- 



Ib Expression and the Primitive 75 

I must precisely define the character of the object or of the body that I wish 
to paint. To do so, I study my method very closely: If I put a black dot on a 
sheet of white paper, the dot will be visible no matter how far away I hold it: 
it is a clear notation. But beside this dot I place another one, and then a third, 
and already there is confusion. In order for the first dot to maintain its value 
I must enlarge it as I put other marks on the paper. 

If upon a white canvas I set down some sensations of blue, of green, of red, 
each new stroke diminishes the importance of the preceding ones. Suppose I 
have to paint an interior: I have before me a cupboard; it gives me a sensation 
of vivid red, and I put down a red which satisfies me. A relation is established 
between this red and the white of the canvas. Let me put a green near the red, 
and make the floor yellow; and again there will be relationships between the 
green or yellow and the white of the canvas which will satisfy me. But these 
different tones mutually weaken one another. It is necessary that the various 
marks I use be balanced so that they do not destroy each other. To do this I 
must organize my ideas; the relationship between the tones must be such that 
it will sustain and not destroy them. A new combination of colours will succeed 
the first and render the totality of my representation. I am forced to transpose 
until finally my picture may seem completely changed when, after successive 
modifications, the red has succeeded the green as the dominant colour. I cannot 
copy nature in a servile way; I am forced to interpret nature and submit it to 
the spirit of the picture. From the relationship I have found in all the tones 
there must result a living harmony of colours, a harmony analogous to that of 
a musical composition. 

For me all is in the conception. I must therefore have a clear vision of the 
whole from the beginning. I could mention a great sculptor who gives us some 
admirable pieces: but for him a composition is merely a grouping of fragments, 
which results in a confusion of expression. Look instead at one of Cezanne's 
pictures: all is so well arranged that no matter at what distance you stand or 
how many figures are represented you will always be able to distinguish each 
figure clearly and to know which limb belongs to which body. If there is order 
and clarity in the picture, it means that from the outset this same order and 
clarity existed in the mind of the painter, or that the painter was conscious of 
their necessity. Limbs may cross and intertwine, but in the eyes of the spectator 
they will nevertheless remain attached to and help to articulate the right body: 
all confusion has disappeared. 

The chief function of colour should be to serve expression as well as possible. 
I put down my tones without a preconceived plan. If at first, and perhaps 
without my having been conscious of it, one tone has particularly seduced or 
caught me, more often than not once the picture is finished I will notice that 
I have respected this tone while I progressively altered and transformed all the 
others. The expressive aspect of colours imposes itself on me in a purely 
instinctive way. To paint an autumn landscape I will not try to remember what 
colours suit this season, I will be inspired only by the sensation that the season 
arouses in me: the icy purity of the sour blue sky will express the season just 



76 The Legacy of Symbolism 

as well as the nuances of foliage. My sensation itself may vary, the autumn may 
be soft and warm like a continuation of summer, or quite cool with a cold sky 
and lemon-yellow trees that give a chilly impression and already announce 
winter. 

My choice of colours does not rest on any scientific theory; it is based on 
observation, on sensitivity, on felt experiences. Inspired by certain pages of 
Delacroix, an artist like Signac is preoccupied with complementary colours, and 
the theoretical knowledge of them will lead him to use a certain tone in a certain 
place. But I simply try to put down colours which render my sensation. There 
is an impelling proportion of tones that may lead me to change the shape of a 
figure or to transform my composition. Until I have achieved this proportion 
in all the parts of the composition I strive towards it and keep on working. 
Then a moment comes when all the parts have found their definite relationships, 
and from then on it would be impossible for me to add a stroke to my picture 
without having to repaint it entirely. 

In reality, I think that the very theory of complementary colours is not 
absolute. In studying the paintings of artists whose knowledge of colours 
depends upon instinct and feeling, and on a constant analogy with their 
sensations, one could define certain laws of colour and so broaden the limits of 
colour theory as it is now defined. 

What interests me most is neither still life nor landscape, but the human figure. 
It is that which best permits me to express my almost religious awe towards 
life. I do not insist upon all the details of the face, on setting them down 
one-by-one with anatomical exactitude. If I have an Italian model who at first 
appearance suggests nothing but a purely animal existence, I nevertheless 
discover his essential qualities, I penetrate amid the lines of the face those which 
suggest the deep gravity which persists in every human being. A work of art 
must carry within itself its complete significance and impose that upon the 
beholder even before he recognizes the subject matter. When I see the Giotto 
frescoes at Padua I do not trouble myself to recognize which scene of the life 
of Christ I have before me, but I immediately understand the sentiment which 
emerges from it, for it is in the lines, the composition, the colour. The title 
will only serve to confirm my impression. 

What I dream of is an art of balance, of purity and serenity, devoid of 
troubling or depressing subject matter, an art which could be for every mental 
worker, for the businessman as well as the man of letters, for example, a 
soothing, calming influence on the mind, something like a good armchair which 
provides relaxation from physical fatigue. 

Often a discussion arises as to the value of different processes, and their 
relationship to different temperaments. A distinction is made between painters 
who work directly from nature and those who work purely from imagination. 
Personally, I think neither of these methods must be preferred to the exclusion 
of the other. Both may be used in turn by the same individual, either because 
he needs contact with objects in order to receive sensations that will excite his 
creative faculty, or his sensations are already organized. In either case he will 



Ib Expression and the Primitive 77 

be able to arrive at that totality which constitutes a picture. In any event I think 
that one can judge the vitality and power of an artist who, after having received 
impressions directly from the spectacle of nature, is able to organize his 
sensations to continue his work in the same frame of mind on different days, 
and to develop these sensations; this power proves he is sufficiently master of 
himself to subject himself to discipline. 

The simplest means are those which best enable an artist to express himself. 
If he fears the banal he cannot avoid it by appearing strange, or going in for 
bizarre drawing and eccentric colour. His means of expression must derive 
almost of necessity from his temperament. He must have the humility of mind 
to believe that he has painted only what he has seen. I like Chardin's way of 
expressing it: 'I apply colour until there is a resemblance.' Or Cezanne's: 'I 
want to secure a likeness', or Rodin's: 'Copy nature!' Leonardo said: 'He who 
can copy can create.' Those who work in a preconceived style, deliberately 
turning their backs on nature, miss the truth. An artist must recognize, when 
he is reasoning, that his picture is an artifice; but when he is painting, he should 
feel that he has copied nature. And even when he departs from nature, he must 
do it with the conviction that it is only to interpret her more fully. 

Some may say that other views on painting were expected from a painter, 
and that I have only come out with platitudes. To this I shall reply that there 
are no new truths. The role of the artist, like that of the scholar, consists of 
seizing current truths often repeated to him, but which will take on new meaning 
for him and which he will make his own when he has grasped their deepest 
significance. If aviators had to explain to us the research which led to their 
leaving earth and rising in the air, they would merely confirm very elementary 
principles of physics neglected by less successful inventors. 
v An artist always profits from information about himself, and I am glad to 
have learned what is my weak point. M. Peladan in the Revue Hebdomadaire 
reproaches a certain number of painters, amongst whom I think I should place 
myself, for calling themselves 'Fauves', and yet dressing like everyone else, so 
that they are no more noticeable than the floor-walkers in a department store. 
Does genius count for so little? If it were only a question of myself that would 
set M. Peladan's mind at ease, tomorrow I would call myself Sar and dress like 
a necromancer. 

In the same article this excellent writer claims that I do not paint honestly, 
and I would be justifiably angry if he had not qualified his statement by saying, 
*I mean honestly with respect to the ideal and the rules.' The trouble is that 
he does not mention where these rules are. I am willing to have them exist, 
but were it possible to learn them what sublime artists we would have! 

Rules have no existence outside of individuals: otherwise a good professor 
would be as great a genius as Racine. Any one of us is capable of repeating 
fine maxims, but few can also penetrate their meaning. I am ready to admit 
that from a study of the works of Raphael or Titian a more complete set of 
rules can be drawn than from the works of Manet or Renoir, but the rules 
followed by Manet and Renoir were those which suited their temperaments and 
I prefer the most minor of their paintings to all the work of those who are 



78 The Legacy of Symbolism 

content to imitate the Venus of U rhino or the Madonna of the Goldfinch, These 
latter are of no value to anyone, for whether we want to or not, we belong to 
our time and we share in its opinions, its feelings, even its delusions. All artists 
bear the imprint of their time, but the great artists are those in whom this is 
most profoundly marked. Our epoch for instance is better represented by 
Courbet than by Flandrin, by Rodin better than by Fremiet. Whether we like 
it or not, however insistently we call ourselves exiles, between our period and 
ourselves an indissoluble bond is established, and M. Peladan himself cannot 
escape it. The aestheticians of the future may perhaps use his books as evidence 
if they get it in their heads to prove that no one of our time understood anything 
about the art of Leonardo da Vinci. 



6 Roger Fry (1866-1934) 4 An Essay in Aesthetics' 

An important statement of Modernist aesthetic principles, providing a form of theoretical 
platform for Fry's two 'Post-Impressionist' exhibitions, held in London in 1910 and 1912. 
These exhibitions and Fry's own writings did much to establish the prevailing pattern ol 
English and English-language interpretation of French modern art. First published in New 
Quarterly, London, 1909; reprinted in Fry's collected essays, Vision and Design, Lon- 
don, 1920, pp. 16-38, from which the present text is taken. 

A certain painter, not without some reputation at the present day, once wrote 
a little book on the art he practises, in which he gave a definition of that art 
so succinct that I take it as a point of departure for this essay. 

'The art of painting', says that eminent authority, 'is the art of imitating solid 
objects upon a flat surface by means of pigments.' It is delightfully simple, but 
prompts the question - is that all? And, if so, what a deal of unnecessary fuss 
has been made about it. Now, it is useless to deny that our modern writer has 
some very respectable authorities behind him. Plato, indeed, gave a very similar 
account of the affair, and himself put the question - is it then worth while? 
And, being scrupulously and relentlessly logical, he decided that it was not 
worth while, and proceeded to turn the artists out of his ideal republic. For all 
that, the world has continued obstinately to consider that painting was worth 
while, and though, indeed, it has never quite made up its mind as to what, 
exactly, the graphic arts did for it, it has persisted in honouring and admiring 
its painters. 

Can we arrive at any conclusions as to the nature of the graphic arts, which 
will at all explain our feelings about them, which will at least put them into 
some kind of relation with the other arts, and not leave us in the extreme 
perplexity, engendered by any theory of mere imitation? For, I suppose, it must 
be admitted that if imitation is the sole purpose of the graphic arts, it is 
surprising that the works of such arts are ever looked upon as more than 
curiosities, or ingenious toys, are ever taken seriously by grown-up people. 
Moreover, it will be surprising that they have any recognizable affinity with 
other arts, such as music or architecture, in which the imitation of actual objects 
is a negligible quantity. 



Ib Expression and the Primitive 79 

To form such conclusions is the aim I have put before myself in this essay. 
|Even if the results are not decisive, the inquiry may lead us to a view of the 
Ijgraphic arts that will not be altogether unfruitful. 

L> I must begin with some elementary psychology, with a consideration of the 
Lnature of instincts. A great many objects in the world, when presented to our 
yenses, put in motion a complex nervous machinery, which ends in some 
|-instinctive appropriate action. We see a wild bull in a field; quite without our 

■ iconscious interference a nervous process goes on, which, unless we interfere 
^forcibly, ends in the appropriate reaction of flight. The nervous mechanism 

which results in flight causes a certain state of consciousness, which we call the 
emotion of fear. The whole of animal life, and a great part of human life, is 
made up of these instinctive reactions to sensible objects, and their accom- 
panying emotions. But man has the peculiar faculty of calling up again in his 
snind the echo of past experiences of this kind, of going over it again, 'in 
imagination' as we say. He has, therefore, the possibility of a double life; one 
the actual life, the other the imaginative life. Between these two lives there is 
$his great distinction, that in the actual life the processes of natural selection 
have brought it about that the instinctive reaction, such, for instance, as flight 
from danger, shall be the important part of the whole process, and it is towards 
| fthis that the man bends his whole conscious endeavour. But in the imaginative 
yjife no such action is necessary, and, therefore, the whole consciousness may be 
.focused upon the perceptive and the emotional aspects of the experience. In 

■ this way we get, in the imaginative life, a different set of values, and a different 
-kind of perception. 

* * * 

That the graphic arts are the expression of the imaginative life rather than a 
copy of actual life might be guessed from observing children. Children, if left 
to themselves, never, I believe, copy what they see, never, as we say, 'draw 
from nature', but express, with a delightful freedom and sincerity, the mental 
images which make up their own imaginative lives. 

Art, then, is an expression and a stimulus of this imaginative life, which is 
separated from actual life by the absence of responsive action. Now this 
responsive action implies in actual life moral responsibility. In art we have no 
such moral responsibility - it presents a life freed from the binding necessities 
of our actual existence. 

What then is the justification for this life of the imagination which all human 
beings live more or less fully? To the pure moralist, who accepts nothing but ethical 
values, in order to be justified, it must be shown not only not to hinder but actually 
to forward right action, otherwise it is not only useless but, since it absorbs our 
energies, positively harmful. To such a one two views are possible, one the 
Puritanical view at its narrowest, which regards the life of the imagination as no 
better or worse than a life of sensual pleasure, and therefore entirely reprehensible. 
The other view is to argue that the imaginative life does subserve morality. And 
this is inevitably the view taken by moralists like Ruskin, to whom the imaginative 
life is yet an absolute necessity. It is a view which leads to some very hard special 
pleading, even to a self-deception which is in itself morally undesirable. 



80 The Legacy of Symbolism 

But here comes in the question of religion, for religion is also an affair of 
the imaginative life, and, though it claims to have a direct effect upon conduct, 
I do not suppose that the religious person if he were wise would justify religion 
entirely by its effect on morality, since that, historically speaking, has not been 
by any means uniformly advantageous. He would probably say that the religious 
experience was one which corresponded to certain spiritual capacities of human 
nature, the exercise of which is in itself good and desirable apart from their 
effect upon actual life. And so, too, I think the artist might if he chose take a 
mystical attitude, and declare that the fullness and completeness of the imagin- 
ative life he leads may correspond to an existence more real and more important 
than any that we know of in mortal life. 

And in saying this, his appeal would find a sympathetic echo in most minds, 
for most people would, I think, say that the pleasures derived from art were of 
an altogether different character and more fundamental than merely sensual 
pleasures, that they did exercise some faculties which are felt to belong to 
whatever part of us there may be which is not entirely ephemeral and material. 

It might even be that from this point of view we should rather justify actual 
life by its relation to the imaginative, justify nature by its likeness to art. I 
mean this, that since the imaginative life comes in the course of time to represent 
more or less what mankind feels to be the completest expression of its own 
nature, the freest use of its innate capacities, the actual life may be explained 
and justified by its approximation here and there, however partially and inade- 
quately, to that freer and fuller life. 

Before leaving this question of the justification of art, let me put it in another 
way. The imaginative life of a people has very different levels at different times, 
and these levels do not always correspond with the general level of the morality 
of actual life. Thus in the thirteenth century we read of barbarity and cruelty 
which would shock even us; we may, I think, admit that our moral level, our 
general humanity is decidedly higher today, but the level of our imaginative life 
is incomparably lower; we are satisfied there with a grossness, a sheer barbarity 
and squalor which would have shocked the thirteenth century profoundly. Let 
us admit the moral gain gladly, but do we not also feel a loss; do we not feel 
that the average businessman would be in every way a more admirable, more 
respectable being if his imaginative life were not so squalid and incoherent? 
And, if we admit any loss then, there is some function in human nature other 
than a purely ethical one, which is worthy of exercise. 

Now the imaginative life has its own history both in the race and in the 
individual. In the individual life one of the first effects of freeing experience 
from the necessities of appropriate responsive action is to indulge recklessly the 
emotion of self-aggrandisement. The day-dreams of a child are filled with 
extravagant romances in which he is always the invincible hero. Music - which 
of all the arts supplies the strongest stimulus to the imaginative life and at the 
same time has the least power of controlling its direction - music, at certain 
stages of people's lives, has the effect merely of arousing in an almost absurd 
degree this egoistic elation . . . But with the teaching of experience and the 
growth of character the imaginative life comes to respond to other instincts and 



Ib Expression and the Primitive 81 

to satisfy other desires, until, indeed, it reflects the highest aspirations and the 
deepest aversions of which human nature is capable. 

In dreams and when under the influence of drugs the imaginative life passes 
out of our own control, and in such cases its experiences may be highly 
undesirable, but whenever it remains under our own control it must always be 
on the whole a desirable life. That is not to say that it is always pleasant, for 
it is pretty clear that mankind is so constituted as to desire much besides 
pleasure, and we shall meet among the great artists, the great exponents, that 
is, of the imaginative life, many to whom the merely pleasant is very rarely a 
part of what is desirable. But this desirability of the imaginative life does 
distinguish it very sharply from actual life, and this is the direct result of that 
first fundamental difference, its freedom from necessary external conditions. 
Art, then, is, if I am right, the chief organ of the imaginative life; it is by art 
that it is stimulated and controlled within us, and, as we have seen, the 
imaginative life is distinguished by the greater clearness of its perception, and 
the greater purity and freedom of its emotion. 

First with regard to the greater clearness of perception. The needs of our 
actual life are so imperative, that the sense of vision becomes highly specialized 
in their service. With an admirable economy we learn to see only so much as 
is needful for our purposes; but this is in fact very little, just enough to recognize 
and identify each object or person; that done, they go into an entry in our 
mental catalogue and are no more really seen. In actual life the normal person 
really only reads the labels as it were on the objects around him and troubles 
no further. Almost all the things which are useful in any way put on more or 
less this cap of invisibility. It is only when an object exists in our lives for no 
other purpose than to be seen that we really look at it, as for instance at a China 
ornament or a precious stone, and towards such even the most normal person 
adopts to some extent the artistic attitude of pure vision abstracted from necessity. 

Now this specialization of vision goes so far that ordinary people have almost 
no idea of what things really look like, so that oddly enough the one standard 
that popular criticism applies to painting, namely, whether it is like nature or 
not, is one which most people are, by the whole tenor of their lives, prevented 
from applying properly. The only things they have ever really looked at being 
other pictures; the moment an artist who has looked at nature brings to them 
a clear report of something definitely seen by him, they are wildly indignant at 
its untruth to nature. This has happened so constantly in our own time that 
there is no need to prove it. One instance will suffice. Monet is an artist whose 
chief claim to recognition lies in the fact of his astonishing power of faithfully 
reproducing certain aspects of nature, but his really naive innocence and 
sincerity were taken by the public to be the most audacious humbug, and it 
required the teaching of men like Bastien-Lepage, who cleverly compromised 
between the truth and an accepted convention of what things looked like, to 
bring the world gradually round to admitting truths which a single walk in the 
country with purely unbiased vision would have established beyond doubt. 

But though this clarified sense perception which we discover in the imagin- 
ative life is of great interest, and although it plays a larger part in the graphic 



82 The Legacy of Symbolism 

arts than in any other, it might perhaps be doubted whether, interesting, curious, 
fascinating as it is, this aspect of the imaginative life would ever by itself make 
art of profound importance to mankind. But it is different, I think, with the 
emotional aspect. We have admitted that the emotions of the imaginative are 
generally weaker than those of actual life. The picture of a saint being slowly 
flayed alive, revolting as it is, will not produce the same physical sensations of 
sickening disgust that a modern man would feel if he could assist at the actual 
event; but they have a compensating clearness of presentment to the conscious- 
ness. The more poignant emotions of actual life have, I think, a kind of numbing 
effect analogous to the paralysing influence of fear in some animals; but even 
if this experience be not generally admitted, all will admit that the need for 
responsive action hurries us along and prevents us from ever realizing fully what 
the emotion is that we feel, from coordinating it perfectly with other states. In 
short, the motives we actually experience are too close to us to enable us to 
feel them clearly. They are in a sense unintelligible. In the imaginative life, on 
the contrary, we can both feel the emotion and watch it. When we are 
really moved at the theatre we are always both on the stage and in the 
auditorium. 

Yet another point about the emotions of the imaginative life - since they 
require no responsive action we can give them a new valuation. In real life we 
must to some extent cultivate those emotions which lead to useful action, and 
we are bound to appraise emotions according to the resultant action. So that, 
for instance, the feelings of rivalry and emulation do get an encouragement 
which perhaps they scarcely deserve, whereas certain feelings which appear to 
have a high intrinsic value get almost no stimulus in actual life. For instance, 
those feelings to which the name of the cosmic emotion has been somewhat 
unhappily given find almost no place in life, but, since they seem to belong to 
certain very deep springs of our nature, do become of great importance in the 
arts. 

Morality, then, appreciates emotion by the standard of resultant action. Art 
appreciates emotion in and for itself. 

This view of the essential importance in art of the expression of the emotions 
is the basis of Tolstoy's marvellously original and yet perverse and even 
exasperating book, What is Art?, and I willingly confess, while disagreeing with 
almost all his results, how much I owe to him. 

He gives an example of what he means by calling art the means of communi- 
cating emotions. He says, let us suppose a boy to have been pursued in the 
forest by a bear. If he returns to the village and merely states that he was 
pursued by a bear and escaped, that is ordinary language, the means of 
communicating facts or ideas; but if he describes his state first of heedlessness, 
then of sudden alarm and terror as the bear appears, and finally of relief when 
he gets away, and describes this so that his hearers share his emotions, then his 
description is a work of art. 

Now in so far as the boy does this in order to urge the villagers to go out 
and kill the bear, though he may be using artistic methods, his speech is not a 
pure work of art; but if of a winter evening the boy relates his experience for 



I 



Ib Expression and the Primitive 83 

the sake of the enjoyment of his adventure in retrospect, or better still, if he 
makes up the whole story for the sake of the imagined emotions, then his speech 
becomes a pure work of art. But Tolstoy takes the other view, and values the 
emotions aroused by art entirely for their reaction upon actual life, a view which 
he courageously maintains even when it leads him to condemn the whole of 
Michelangelo, Raphael, and Titian, and most of Beethoven, not to mention 
nearly everything he himself has written, as bad or false art. 

Such a view would, I think, give pause to any less heroic spirit. He would 
wonder whether mankind could have always been so radically wrong about a 
function that, whatever its value be, is almost universal. And in point of fact 
he will have to find some other word to denote what we now call art. Nor does 
Tolstoy's theory even carry him safely through his own book, since, in his 
examples of morally desirable and therefore good art, he has to admit that these 
are to be found, for the most part, among works of inferior quality. Here, then, 
is at once the tacit admission that another standard than morality is applicable. 
We must therefore give up the attempt to judge the work of art by its reaction 
on life, and consider it as an expression of emotions regarded as ends in 
themselves. And this brings us back to the idea we had already arrived at, of 
art as the expression of the imaginative life. 

If, then, an object of any kind is created by man not for use, for its fitness 
to actual life, but as an object of art, an object subserving the imaginative life, 
what will its qualities be? It must in the first place be adapted to that 
disinterested intensity of contemplation, which we have found to be the effect 
of cutting off the responsive action. It must be suited to that heightened power 
of perception which we found to result therefrom. 

And the first quality that we demand in our sensations will be order, without 
which our sensations will be troubled and perplexed, and the other quality will 
be variety, without which they will not be fully stimulated. 

It may be objected that many things in nature, such as flowers, possess these 
two qualities of order and variety in a high degree, and these objects do 
undoubtedly stimulate and satisfy that clear disinterested contemplation which 
is characteristic of the aesthetic attitude. But in our reaction to a work of art 
there is something more - there is the consciousness of purpose, the conscious- 
ness of a peculiar relation of sympathy with the man who made this thing in 
order to arouse precisely the sensations we experience. And when we come to 
the higher works of art, where sensations are so arranged that they arouse in 
us deep emotions, this feeling of a special tie with the man who expressed them 
becomes very strong. We feel that he has expressed something which was latent 
in us all the time, but which we never realized, that he has revealed us to 
ourselves in revealing himself. And this recognition of purpose is, I believe, an 
essential part of the aesthetic judgement proper. 

The perception of purposeful order and variety in an object gives us the 
feeling which we express by saying that it is beautiful, but when by means of 
sensations our emotions are aroused we demand purposeful order and variety 
in them also, and if this can only be brought about by the sacrifice of sensual 
beauty we willingly overlook its absence. 



84 The Legacy of Symbolism 

Thus, there is no excuse for a china pot being ugly, there is every reason 
why Rembrandt's and Degas' pictures should be, from the purely sensual point 
of view, supremely and magnificently ugly. 

This, I think, will explain the apparent contradiction between two distinct 
uses of the word beauty, one for that which has sensuous charm, and one for 
the aesthetic approval of works of imaginative art where the objects presented 
to us are often of extreme ugliness. Beauty in the former sense belongs to works 
of art where only the perceptual aspect of the imaginative life is exercised, 
beauty in the second sense becomes as it were supersensual, and is concerned 
with the appropriateness and intensity of the emotions aroused. When these 
emotions are aroused in a way that satisfies fully the needs of the imaginative 
life we approve and delight in the sensations through which we enjoy that 
heightened experience because they possess purposeful order and variety in 
relation to those emotions. 

One chief aspect of order in a work of art is unity; unity of some kind is 
necessary for our restful contemplation of the work of art as a whole, since if 
it lacks unity we cannot contemplate it in its entirety, but we shall pass outside 
it to other things necessary to complete its unity. 

In a picture this unity is due to a balancing of the attractions of the eye about 
the central line of the picture. The result of this balance of attractions is that 
the eye rests willingly within the bounds of the picture. [ . . . ] 
* * * 

Let us now see how the artist passes from the stage of merely gratifying our 
demand for sensuous order and variety to that where he arouses our emotions. 
I will call the various methods by which this is effected the emotional elements 
of design. 

The first element is that of the rhythm of the line with which the forms are 
delineated. 

The drawn line is the record of a gesture, and that gesture is modified by 
the artist's feeling which is thus communicated to us directly. 

The second element is mass. When an object is so represented that we 
recognize it as having inertia, we feel its power of resisting movement, or 
communicating its own movement to other bodies, and our imaginative reaction 
to such an image is governed by our experience of mass in actual life. 

The third element is space. The same-sized square on two pieces of paper 
can be made by very simple means to appear to represent either a cube two or 
three inches high, or a cube of hundreds of feet, and our reaction to it is 
proportionately changed. 

The fourth element is that of light and shade. Our feelings towards the same 
object become totally different according as we see it strongly illuminated against 
a black background or dark against light. 

A fifth element is that of colour. That this has a direct emotional effect is 
evident from such words as gay, dull, melancholy in relation to colour. 

I would suggest the possibility of another element, though perhaps it is only 
a compound of mass and space: it is that of the inclination to the eye of a 
plane, whether it is impending over or leaning away from us. 



Ib Expression and the Primitive 85 

Now it will be noticed that nearly all these emotional elements of design are 

connected with essential conditions of our physical existence: rhythm appeals 

to all the sensations which accompany muscular activity; mass to all the infinite 

adaptations to the force of gravity which we are forced to make; the spatial 

judgement is equally profound and universal in its application to life; our feeling 

about inclined planes is connected with our necessary judgements about the 

| conformation of the earth itself; light again, is so necessary a condition of our 

existence that we become intensely sensitive to changes in its intensity. Colour 

is the only one of our elements which is not of critical or universal importance 

to life, and its emotional effect is neither so deep nor so clearly determined as 

the others. It will be seen, then, that the graphic arts arouse emotions in us by 

I playing upon what one may call the overtones of some of our primary physical 

I needs. They have, indeed, this great advantage over poetry, that they can appeal 

I more directly and immediately to the emotional accompaniments of our bare 

1 physical existence. 

If we represent these various elements in simple diagrammatic terms, this 

effect upon the emotions is, it must be confessed, very weak. Rhythm of line, 

| for instance, is incomparably weaker in its stimulus of the muscular sense than 

4s rhythm addressed to the ear in music, and such diagrams can at best arouse 

?only faint ghost-like echoes of emotions of differing qualities; but when these 

emotional elements are combined with the presentation of natural appearances, 

above all with the appearance of the human body, we find that this effect is 

^indefinitely heightened. 

When, for instance, we look at Michelangelo's 'Jeremiah', and realize the 
irresistible momentum his movements would have, we experience powerful 
sentiments of reverence and awe. Or when we look at Michelangelo's 'Tondo' 
in the Uffizi, and find a group of figures so arranged that the planes have a 
sequence comparable in breadth and dignity to the mouldings of the earth 
mounting by clearly-felt gradations to an overtopping summit, innumerable 
instinctive reactions are brought into play. 

At this point the adversary (as Leonardo da Vinci calls him) is likely to retort, 
'You have abstracted from natural forms a number of so-called emotional 
elements which you yourself admit are very weak when stated with diagrammatic 
purity; you then put them back, with the help of Michelangelo, into the natural 
forms whence they were derived, and at once they have value, so that after all 
it appears that the natural forms contain these emotional elements ready made 
up for us, and all that art need do is to imitate Nature.' 

But, alas! Nature is heartlessly indifferent to the needs of the imaginative life; 
God causes His rain to fall upon the just and upon the unjust. The sun neglects 
to provide the appropriate limelight effect even upon a triumphant Napoleon 
or a dying Caesar. Assuredly we have no guarantee that in nature the emotional 
elements will be combined appropriately with the demands of the imaginative 
life, and it is, I think, the great occupation of the graphic arts to give us first 
of all order and variety in the sensuous plane, and then so to arrange the 
sensuous presentment of objects that the emotional elements are elicited with 
an order and appropriateness altogether beyond what Nature herself provides. 



w: 



86 The Legacy of Symbolism 

Let me sum up for a moment what I have said about the relation of art to 
Nature, which is, perhaps, the greatest stumbling-block to the understanding of 
the graphic arts. 

I have admitted that there is beauty in Nature, that is to say, that certain 
objects constantly do, and perhaps any object may, compel us to regard it with 
that intense disinterested contemplation that belongs to the imaginative life, and 
which is impossible to the actual life of necessity and action; but that in objects 
created to arouse the aesthetic feeling we have an added consciousness of purpose 
on the part of the creator, that he made it on purpose not to be used but to 
be regarded and enjoyed; and that this feeling is characteristic of the aesthetic 
judgement proper. 

When the artist passes from pure sensations to emotions aroused by means 
of sensations, he uses natural forms which, in themselves, are calculated to move 
our emotions, and he presents these in such a manner that the forms themselves 
generate in us emotional states, based upon the fundamental necessities of our 
physical and physiological nature. The artist's attitude to natural form is, 
therefore, infinitely various according to the emotions he wishes to arouse. He 
may require for his purpose the most complete representation of a figure, he 
may be intensely realistic, provided that his presentment, in spite of its closeness 
to natural appearance, disengages clearly for us the appropriate emotional 
elements. Or he may give us the merest suggestion of natural forms, and rely 
almost entirely upon the force and intensity of the emotional elements involved 
in his presentment. 

We may, then, dispense once for all with the idea of likeness to Nature, of 
correctness or incorrectness as a test, and consider only whether the emotional 
elements inherent in natural form are adequately discovered, unless, indeed, the 
emotional idea depends at any point upon likeness, or completeness of repre- 
sentation. 



7 Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) from Concerning 
the Spiritual in Art 

Kandinsky was born in Moscow and trained in Munich, where he co-founded the group 
Der Biaue Reiter and where his major treatise was first published late in 1911 as Uber 
das Geistige in der Kunst (Piper Verlag, dated 1912). His theories rest on a series of 
assumptions which were relatively widespread in modern artistic circles around the turn 
of the century: that there is a qualitative hierarchy in human experience (a belief central 
to the doctrine of Theosophy, to which both Kandinsky and Mondrian were attracted); 
that works of art are united by their possession of an essential expressive or 'spiritual' 
value; and that this value is a function of art's autonomy with respect to naturalistic 
appearances. In this text Kandinsky develops a defence of art's 'essential' spiritual 
function into a programme for abstract painting conceived as an index of social and 
spiritual progress. First English translation 1914; the present version is taken from the 
translation of the second 1912 edition, in K. C. Lindsay and P. Vergo (eds. and trans.), 
Kandinsky: Complete Writings on Art, London, 1982, pp. 127-61. 



Ib Expression and the Primitive 87 
14 General 

I Introduction 

Every work of art is the child of its time, often it is the mother of our emotions. 
Thus, every period of culture produces its own art, which can never be 
repeated. Any attempt to give new life to the artistic principles of the past can 
at best only result in a work of art that resembles a stillborn child. For example, 
it is impossible for our inner lives, our feelings, to be like those of the ancient 
Greeks. Efforts, therefore, to apply Greek principles, e.g., to sculpture, can only 
pipduce forms similar to those employed by the Greeks, a work that remains 
#»ulless for all time. This sort of imitation resembles the mimicry of the ape. 
To all outward appearances, the movements of apes are exactly like those of 
human beings. The ape will sit holding a book in front of its nose, leafing 
though with a thoughtful expression on its face, but the inner meaning of these 
gestures is completely lacking. 

h/There exists, however, another outward similarity of artistic forms that is 
rooted in a deeper necessity. The similarity of inner strivings within the whole 
spiritual-moral atmosphere - striving after goals that have already been pursued, 
,h$ afterward forgotten - this similarity of the inner mood of an entire period 
can lead logically to the use of forms successfully employed to the same ends 
in an earlier period. Our sympathy, our understanding, our inner feeling for 
^primitives arose partly in this way. Just like us, those pure artists wanted 
to capture in their works the inner essence of things, which of itself brought 
about a rejection of the external, the accidental. 

-, ££tds important point of inner contact is, however, for all its importance, only 
appoint. Our souls, which are only now beginning to awaken after the long reign 
^materialism, harbor seeds of desperation, unbelief, lack of purpose. The whole 
nightmare of the materialistic attitude, which has turned the life of the universe 
into an evil, purposeless game, is not yet over. The awakening soul is still deeply 
Under the influence of this nightmare. Only a weak light glimmers, like a tiny 
i^im in an enormous circle of blackness. This weak light is no more than an 
intimation that the soul scarcely has the courage to perceive, doubtful whether 
this light might not itself be a dream, and the circle of blackness, reality. This 
doubt, and the still-oppressive suffering caused by a materialistic philosophy 
create a sharp distinction between our souls and those of the 'primitives.' Our 
souls, when one succeeds in touching them, give out a hollow ring, like a 
k? UtifUl VaSC discovered cracked in the depths of the earth. For this reason 
tpe movement toward the primitive, which we are experiencing at this moment, 
Caftonly be, with its present borrowed forms, of short duration. 
JUThese two similarities between modern art and the forms of bygone periods 
%e, as can easily be seen, diametrically opposed. The first is external and thus 
m no future. The second is internal and therefore conceals the seeds of the 
future within itself. After the period of materialistic trials to which the soul 
.-lad apparently succumbed, yet which it rejected as an evil temptation, the soul 
emerges, refined by struggle and suffering. Coarser emotions such as terror, joy, 



1^" 



88 The Legacy of Symbolism 

sorrow, etc., which served as the content of art during this period of trial, will 
now hold little attraction fo v r the artist. He will strive to awaken as yet nameless 
feelings of a finer nature. He himself leads a relatively refined and complex 
existence, and the work he produces will necessarily awaken finer emotions in 
the spectator who is capable of them, emotions that we cannot put into words. 



II Movement 

The spiritual life can be accurately represented by a diagram of a large acute 
triangle divided into unequal parts, with the most acute and smallest division 
at the top. The farther down one goes, the larger, broader, more extensive, and 
deeper become the divisions of the triangle. 

The whole triangle moves slowly, barely perceptibly, forward and upward, so 
that where the highest point is 'today'; the next division is 'tomorrow,' i.e., 
what is today comprehensible only to the topmost segment of the triangle and 
to the rest of the triangle is gibberish, becomes tomorrow the sensible and 
emotional content of the life of the second segment. 

At the apex of the topmost division there stands sometimes only a single man. 
His joyful vision is like an inner, immeasurable sorrow. Those who are closest 
to him do not understand him and in their indignation, call him deranged: a 
phoney or a candidate for the madhouse. [. . .] 

In every division of the triangle, one can find artists. Every one of them who 
is able to see beyond the frontiers of his own segment is the prophet of his 
environment, and helps the forward movement of the obstinate cartload of 
humanity. But if he does not possess the necessary sharp eye, or if he misuses 
or even closes it from unworthy motives or for unworthy purposes, then he 
is fully understood and celebrated by all his companions within his own 
segment. The bigger this segment is (and the lower down, therefore, it lies), 
the greater is the mass of people who find the artist's language comprehensible. 
It is obvious that every such segment hungers - consciously or (much more 
often) completely unconsciously - after its corresponding spiritual bread. This 
bread is given it by its artists, and tomorrow the next segment will reach for 
that same bread. 



Ill Spiritual Turning-point 

The spiritual triangle moves slowly forward and upward. Today, one of the 
largest of the lower divisions has grasped the elementary slogans of the materi- 
alistic 'credo.' As regards religion, its inhabitants bear various titles. They call 
themselves Jews, Catholics, Protestants, etc. In fact, they are atheists, a fact that 
a few of the most daring or most stupid openly admit. 'Heaven' is empty. 'God 
is dead.' Politically, these inhabitants are republicans or democrats. The fear, 
distaste, and hatred they felt yesterday for these political views are today directed 
at the term anarchy, about which they know nothing save the terrifying name. 



1b Expression and the Primitive 89 

Economically, these people are socialists. They sharpen the sword of justice to 
deal the fatal blow to the capitalist hydra and cut off the head of evil. 

Since the inhabitants of this large division of the triangle have never managed 
to solve a problem for themselves and have always been pulled along in the cart 
of humanity by their self-sacrificing fellow men standing far above them, they 
know nothing of the effort of pulling, which they have never observed except 
from a great distance. For this reason, they imagine this effort to be very easy, 
believing in infallible remedies and prescriptions of universal application. 

The next and lower division is dragged blindly upward by the one just described. 
But it hangs grimly onto its former position, struggling in fear of the unknown, 
of being deceived. 

,., The higher.divisions, religiously speaking, are not only blindly atheistic, but 
are able to justify their godlessness with the words of others (for example, 
Virchow's saying, unworthy of an educated man: 'I have dissected many corpses, 
but never yet discovered a soul'). Politically they are even more often republi- 
cans, are familiar with various parliamentary usages, and read the leading articles 
on politics in the newspapers. Economically, they are socialists of various shades, 
supporting their 'convictions' with a wealth of quotations (everything from 
Schweitzer's Emma to Lassalle's Iron Law and Marx's Capital, and much more). 
U: Jn these higher divisions, other disciplines gradually emerge that were missing 
£om those just described: science and art, to which belong also literature and music. 
^Scientifically, these people are positivists, recognizing only what can be 
weighed and measured. They regard anything else as potentially harmful non- 
sense, the same nonsense they yesterday called today's 'proven' theories. 
^1 Jjj^art they are naturalists, which permits them to recognize and even prize 
personality, individuality, and temperament in the artist, up to a certain limit 
designated by others and in which, for this very reason, they believe unswervingly. 

|n tjiese higher compartments there exists, despite the visible order and certainty 
and infallible principles, a hidden fear, a confusion, a vacillation, an uncertainty 
- as in the heads of passengers aboard a great, steady ocean liner when black 
£iquds gather over the sea, the dry land is hidden in mist, and the bleak wind 
lj^ps up the water into black mountains. And this is thanks to their education. 
r or they know that the man who is today revered as intellectual, statesman, or 
artist was yesterday a ridiculed self-seeker, charlatan, or incompetent, unworthy 
Pf serious consideration. 

.ri.Afld the higher one ascends the spiritual triangle, the more obvious becomes 
tws sharp-edged fear, this insecurity. First, one finds here and there eyes capable 
°^*?? m g for themselves, heads capable of putting two and two together. People 
^h these gifts ask themselves, 'If this wisdom of the day before yesterday has 
f^en overthrown by that of yesterday, and the latter by that of today, then 
Spuld j t not also be somehow possible that the wisdom of today could be 
Supplanted by that of tomorrow?' And the bravest of them reply, 'It is within 
«*e bounds of possibility.' 

MrSecqnd, one finds eyes capable of seeing what is 'not yet explained' by 
?no0ern-day sci ence. Such people ask themselves: 'Will science ever reach a 



90 The Legacy of Symbolism 

solution to this problem if it continues along the same path it has been following 
until now? And if it reaches one, will we be able to rely on its answer?' 

In these compartments can also be fpund professional intellectuals, who can 
remember how established facts, recognized by the academies, were first greeted 
by those same academies. Here, too, can be found art historians, who write 
books full of praise and deep sentiments - about an art that yesterday was 
regarded as senseless. By means of these books, they remove the hurdles over 
which art has long since jumped, and set up new ones, which this time are 
supposed to stay permanently and firmly in place. Engaged in this occupation, 
they fail to notice that they are building their barriers behind art rather than 
in front of it. If they notice it tomorrow, then they will quickly write more 
books in order to remove their barriers one stage further. And this occupation 
will continue unchanged until it is realized that the-external principles of art 
can only be valid for the past and not for the future. No theory derived from 
these principles can account for the path ahead, which lies in the realm of the 
nonmaterial. One cannot crystallize in material form what does not yet exist in 
material form. The spirit that will lead us into the realms of tomorrow can only 
be recognized through feeling (to which the talent of the artist is the path). Theory 
is the lantern that illuminates the crystallized forms of yesterday and before. 

And if we climb still higher, we see even greater confusion, as if in a great 
city, built solidly according to all architectural and mathematical rules, that is 
suddenly shaken by a mighty force. The people who live in this division indeed 
live in just such a spiritual city, where such forces are at work, and with which 
the spiritual architects and mathematicians have not reckoned. [. . .] 

And higher still we find that there is no more fear. The work done here boldly 
shakes the pinnacles that men have set up. Here, too, we find professional 
intellectuals who examine matter over and over again and finally cast doubt 
upon matter itself, which yesterday was the basis of everything, and upon which 
the whole universe was supported. The electron theory - i.e., the theory of moving 
electricity, which is supposed completely to replace matter, has found lately 
many keen proponents, who from time to time overreach the limits of caution 
and thus perish in the conquest of this new stronghold of science, like heedless 
soldiers, sacrificing themselves for others at the desperate storming of some 
beleaguered fortress. But 'there is no fortress so strong that it cannot be taken.' 

On the other hand, such facts as the science of yesterday greeted with the usual 
word 'swindle' are on the increase, or are merely becoming more generally 
known. Even the newspapers, those habitually most obedient servants of success 
and of the plebs, who base their business on 'giving the people what they want,' 
find themselves in many cases obliged to limit or even to suppress altogether 
the ironic tone of their articles about the latest 'miracles.' Various educated 
men, pure materialists among them, devote their powers of scientific investiga- 
tion to those puzzling facts that can no longer be denied or kept quiet. 

On the other hand, the number of people who set no store by the methods of 
materialistic science in matters concerning the 'nonmaterial', or matter that is 



Ib Expression and the Primitive 91 

not perceptible to our senses, is at last increasing. And just as art seeks help 

from the primitives, these people turn for help to half-forgotten times, with 

their half-forgotten methods. [ . . . ] 

* * * 

When religion, science, and morality are shaken (the last by the mighty hand 

of Nietzsche), when the external supports threaten to collapse, then man's gaze 

turns away from the external toward himself. 

Literature, music, and art are the first and most sensitive realms where this 
spiritual change becomes noticeable in real form. These spheres immediately 
reflect the murky present; they provide an intimation of that greatness which 
first becomes noticeable only to a few, as just a tiny point, and which for the 
masses does not exist at all. 

They reflect the great darkness that appeared with hardly any warning. They 
themselves become dark and murky. On the other hand, they turn away from 
the soulless content of modern life, toward materials and environments that give 
a free hand to the nonmaterial strivings and searchings of the thirsty soul. 

'■'■0 * * 



IV The Pyramid 

And so; gradually the different arts have set forth on the path of saying what 
they are best able to say, through means that are peculiar to each. 

And in spite of, or thanks to, this differentiation, the arts as such have never 
in recent times been closer to one another than in this latest period of spiritual 
transformation. 

In all that we have discussed above lie hidden the seeds of the struggle toward 
the nonnaturalistic, the abstract, toward inner nature. Consciously or uncon- 
sciously, they obey the words of Socrates: 'Know thyself!' Consciously or 
unconsciously, artists turn gradually toward an emphasis on their materials, 
examining them spiritually, weighing in the balance the inner worth of those 
elements out of which their art is best suited to create. 



£ B Painting 



:# 



V Effects of Color 



Letting one's eyes wander over a palette laid out with colors has two main 
f"'» results: 

1 There occurs a purely physical effect, i.e., the eye itself is charmed by 
the beauty and other qualities of the color. The spectator experiences a feeling 
of satisfaction, of pleasure, like a gourmet who has a tasty morsel in his mouth. 
Or the eye is titillated, as is one's palate by a highly spiced dish. It can also 
be calmed or cooled again, as one's finger can when it touches ice. These are 
all physical sensations and as such can only be of short duration. They are also 
superficial, leaving behind no lasting impression if the soul remains closed. Just 



92 The Legacy of Symbolism 

as one can only experience a physical feeling of cold on touching ice (which 
one forgets after having warmed one's fingers again), so too the physical effect 
of color is forgotten when one's eyes are turned away. And as the physical 
sensation of the coldness of the ice, penetrating deeper, can give rise to other, 
deeper sensations and set off a whole chain of psychic experiences, so the 
superficial effect of color can also develop into a [deeper] form of experience. 

Only familiar objects will have a wholly superficial effect upon a moderately 
sensitive person. Those, however, that we encounter for the first time immedi- 
ately have a spiritual effect upon us. A child, for whom every object is new, 
experiences the world in this way: it sees light, is attracted by it, wants to grasp 
it, burns its finger in the process, and thus learns fear and respect for the flame. 
And then it learns that light has not only an unfriendly, but also a friendly 
side: banishing darkness and prolonging the day, warming and cooking, delight- 
ing the eye. One becomes familiar with light by collecting these experiences 
and storing away this knowledge in the brain. The powerful, intense interest in 
light vanishes, and its attribute of delighting the eye is met with indifference. 
Gradually, in this way, the world loses its magic. One knows that trees provide 
shade, that horses gallop quickly, and that cars go even faster, that dogs bite, 
that the moon is far away, and that the man one sees in the mirror is not real. 

The constantly growing awareness of the qualities of different objects and 
beings is only possible given a high level of development in the individual. With 
further development, these objects and beings take on an inner value, eventually 
an inner sound. So it is with color, which if one's spiritual sensitivity is at a 
low stage of development, can only create a superficial effect, an effect that 
soon disappears once the stimulus has ceased. Yet, even at this stage, this 
extremely simple effect can vary. The eye is more strongly attracted by the 
brighter colors, and still more by the brighter and warmer: vermilion attracts 
and pleases the eye as does flame, which men always regard covetously. Bright 
lemon yellow hurts the eye after a short time, as a high note on the trumpet 
hurts the ear. The eye becomes disturbed, cannot bear it any longer, and seeks 
depth and repose in blue or green. 

At a higher level of development, however, there arises from this elementary 
impression a more profound effect, which occasions a deep emotional response. 
In this case we have: 

2 The second main consequence of the contemplation of color, i.e., the 
psychological effect of color. The psychological power of color becomes appar- 
ent, calling forth a vibration from the soul. Its primary, elementary physical 
power becomes simply the path by which color reaches the soul. 

Whether this second consequence is in fact a direct one, as might be supposed 
from these last few lines, or whether it is achieved by means of association, 
remains perhaps questionable. Since in general the soul is closely connected to 
the body, it is possible that one emotional response may conjure up another, 
corresponding form of emotion by means of association. For example, the color 
red may cause a spiritual vibration like flame, since red is the color of flame. 
A warm red has a stimulating effect and can increase in intensity until it induces 
a painful sensation, perhaps also because of its resemblance to flowing blood. 



IA 



Ib Expression and the Primitive 93 

This color can thus conjure up the memory of another physical agent, which 
necessarily exerts a painful effect upon the soul. 

If this were the case, it would be easy to find an associative explanation for 
the other physical effects of color, i.e., its effects not only upon our sight, but 
also upon our other senses. One might assume that, e.g., bright yellow produces 
a sour effect by analogy with lemons. 

It is, however, hardly possible to maintain this kind of explanation. As far as 
tasting colors is concerned, many examples are known where this explanation 
does not apply. A Dresden doctor tells how one of his patients, whom he 
describes as 'spiritually, unusually highly developed,' invariably found that a 
certain sauce had a 'blue' taste, i.e., it affected him like the color blue. One 
might perhaps assume another similar, and yet different, explanation; that in 
the case of such highly developed people the paths leading to the soul are so 
direct, and the impressions it receives are so quickly produced, that an effect 
immediately communicated to the soul via the medium of taste sets up vibrations 
along the corresponding paths leading away from the soul to the other sensory 
organs (in this case, the eye). This effect would seem to be a sort of echo or 
resonance, as in the case of musical instruments, which without themselves being 
touched, vibrate in sympathy with another instrument being played. Such highly 
sensitive people are like good, much-played violins, which vibrate in all their 
parts and fibers at every touch of the bow. 

;■*■,. If one accepts this explanation, then admittedly, sight must be related not 
®nly to taste, but also to all the other senses. Which is indeed the case. Many 

f colors have an uneven, prickly appearance, while others feel smooth, like velvet, 
so that one wants to stroke them (dark ultramarine, chrome-oxide green, 
madder). Even the distinction between cold and warm tones depends upon this 
sensation. There are also colors that appear soft (madder), others that always 
strike one as hard (cobalt green, green-blue oxide), so that one might mistake 
them for already dry when freshly squeezed from the tube. 

The expression 'the scent of colors 1 is common usage. 
i- Finally, our hearing of colors is so precise that it would perhaps be impossible 
to find anyone who would try to represent his impression of bright yellow by 
means of the bottom register of the piano, or describe dark madder as being 
like a soprano voice. 

This explanation (that is, in terms of association) is, however, insufficient in 
many instances that are for us of particular importance. Anyone who has heard 
of color therapy knows that colored light can have a particular effect upon the 
entire body. Various attempts to exploit this power of color and apply it to 
different nervous disorders have again noted that red light has an enlivening 
and stimulating effect upon the heart, while blue, on the other hand, can lead 
to temporary paralysis. If this sort of effect can also be observed in the case of 
animals, and even plants, then any explanation in terms of association completely 
falls down. These facts in any case prove that color contains within itself a 
little-studied but enormous power, which can influence the entire human body 
as a physical organism. 



94 The Legacy of Symbolism 

If association does not seem a sufficient explanation in this case, then it cannot 
satisfy us as regards the effect of color upon the psyche. In general, therefore, 
color is a means of exerting a direct influence upon the soul. Color is the 
keyboard. The eye is the hammer. The soul is the piano, with its many strings. 

The artist is the hand that purposefully sets the soul vibrating by means of 
this or that key. 

Thus it is clear that the harmony of colors can only be based upon the 
principle of purposefully touching the human soul. 

This basic tenet we shall call the principle of internal necessity. 



8 Wassily Kandinsky (1966-1944) The Cologne Lecture 

Kandinsky here gives a summary account of his own work and of its development. He 
had been invited to lecture on his work at the opening of an exhibition in Cologne in 
1914, and responded by sending a typescript text. A transcription of the original 
manuscript was published in J. Eichner, Kandinsky und Gabhele Munter, Von Ursprungen 
Moderner Kunst, Munich, 1957. The present version is taken from the translation in 
Lindsay and Vergo, op. cit, pp. 394-400. 

[ . . . ] I can in general characterize the three periods of my development ... in 
the following manner: 

I remember the first, or (as I called it) dilettante, period as the simultaneous 
effect of two different impulses. These two different impulses were, as my later 
development shows, fundamentally different. 

1 Love of nature. 

2 Indefinite stirrings of the urge to create. 

This love of nature consisted principally of pure joy in and enthusiasm for 
the element of color. I was often so strongly possessed by a strongly sounding, 
perfumed patch of blue in the shadow of a bush that I would paint a whole 
landscape merely in order to fix this patch. Of course, such studies turned out 
badly, and I used to search after the kind of 'motifs' of which each constituent 
part would affect me equally strongly. Of course, I never found any. Then I 
would try to make more effective those parts of the canvas which produced a 
lesser effect. It was out of these exercises that my later ability developed . . . 

At the same time I felt within myself incomprehensible stirrings, the urge to 
paint a picture. And I felt dimly that a picture can be something other than a 
beautiful landscape, an interesting and picturesque scene, or the portrayal of a 
person. Because I loved colors more than anything else, I thought even then, 
however confusedly, of color composition, and sought that objective element 
which could justify the [choice of] colors. 

This was the transition to my time of study, and to the second period of my 
search. 

... It soon appeared to me that past ages, having no longer any real existence, 
could provide me with freer pretexts for that use of color which I felt within 



Ib Expression and the Primitive 95 

myself. [. . .] I was far less free in my treatment of the 'laws of drawing.' E.g., 
I regarded it as necessary to keep people's heads more or less in a straight line, 
as one sees them on the street. [. . .] 

Only very slowly did I come to free myself from this prejudice. In Composition 
2, one can see the free use of color without regard for the demands of 
perspective. I always found it unpleasant, however, and often distasteful, to 
allow the figures to remain within the bounds of physiological laws and at the 
same time indulge in compositional distortions. It seemed to me that if one 
physical realm is destroyed for the sake of pictorial necessity, then the artist 
has the artistic right and the artistic duty to negate the other physical realms 
as well. I saw with displeasure in other people's pictures elongations that 
contradicted the structure of the body, or anatomical distortions, and knew well 
that this would not and could not be for me the solution to the question of 
representation. Thus, objects began gradually to dissolve more and more in my 
pictures. This can be seen in nearly all the pictures of 1910. 

As yet, objects did not want to, and were not to, disappear altogether from 
my pictures. First, it is impossible to conjure up maturity artificially at any 
particular time. And nothing is more damaging and more sinful than to seek 
one's forms by force. One's inner impulse, i.e., the creating spirit, will inexorably 
create at the right moment the form it finds necessary. One can philosophize 
about form; it can be analyzed, even calculated. It must, however, enter into 
the work of art of its own accord, and moreover, at that level of completeness 
which corresponds to the development of the creative spirit. Thus, I was obliged 
to wait patiently for the hour that would lead my hand to create abstract form. 

Secondly (and this is closely bound up with my inner development), I did 
not want to banish objects completely. I have in many places spoken at length 
about the fact that objects, in themselves, have a particular spiritual sound, 
which can and does serve as the material for all realms of art. And I was still 
too strongly bound up with the wish to seek purely pictorial forms having this 
spiritual sound. Thus, I dissolved objects to a greater or lesser extent within 
the same picture, so that they might not all be recognized at once and so that 
these emotional overtones might thus be experienced gradually by the spectator, 
one after another. Here and there, purely abstract forms entered of their own 
accord, which therefore had to produce a purely pictorial effect without the 
above-mentioned coloration. In other words, I myself was not yet sufficiently 
mature to experience purely abstract form without bridging the gap by means 
of objects. If I had possessed this ability, I would already have created absolute 
pictures at that time. 

In general, however, I already knew quite definitely at that time that I would 
conquer absolute painting. Experience bade me have the utmost patience. And 
yet, there were many times when it was infinitely difficult to follow this bidding. 

[. . .] For a time I concentrated all my efforts upon the linear element, for 
I knew internally that this element still requires my attention. The colors, which 
I employed later, lie as if upon one and the same plane, while their inner weights 
are different. Thus, the collaboration of different spheres entered into my 
pictures of its own accord. By this means I also avoided the element of flatness 



96 The Legacy of Symbolism 

in painting, which can easily lead and has already so often led to the ornamental. 
This difference between the inner planes gave my pictures a depth that more 
than compensated for the earlier, perspective depth. I distributed my weights 
so that they revealed no architectonic center. Often, heavy was at the top and 
light at the bottom. Often, I left the middle weak and strengthened the corners. 
I would put a crushing weight between parts that weighed little. I would let 
cold come to the fore and drive warm into the background. I would treat the 
individual color-tones likewise, cooling the warmer tones, warming the cold, so 
that even one single color was raised to the level of a composition. It is 
impossible, and relatively fruitless, to enumerate all the things that served me 
as means to an end. [. . .] 

The summer of 1911, which was unusually hot for Germany, lasted desper- 
ately long. Every morning on waking, I saw from the window the incandescent 
blue sky. The thunderstorms came, let fall a few drops of rain, and passed on. 
I had the feeling as if someone seriously ill had to be made to sweat, but that 
no remedies were of any use: hardly had a few beads of sweat appeared than 
the tortured body would begin to burn all over again. One's skin cracked. One's 
breath failed. Suddenly, all nature seemed to me white; white (great silence - 
full of possibilities) displayed itself everywhere and expanded visibly. Later, I 
remembered this feeling when I observed that white played a special role and 
had been treated with particular attention in my pictures. Since that time, I 
know what undreamed-of possibilities this primordial color conceals within itself. 
I saw how wrongly I had hitherto conceived of this color, for I had regarded 
its presence in large masses as necessary merely to emphasize the linear element, 
and had been afraid of the reckless quality of its inner strength. This discovery 
was of enormous importance for me. I felt, with an exactitude I had never yet 
experienced, that the principal tone, the innate, inner character of a color can 
be redefined ad infinitum by its different uses, that, e.g., the indifferent can 
become more expressive than what is thought of as the most highly expressive. 
This revelation turned the whole of painting upside-down and opened up before 
it a realm in which one had previously been unable to believe. I.e., the inner, 
thousandfold, unlimited values of one and the same quality, the possibility of 
obtaining and applying infinite series simply in combination with one single 
quality, tore open before me the gates of the realm of absolute art. 

A spiritual-logical consequence of this experience was the impulse to make 
the external element of form even more concise, to clothe content in much 
cooler forms. To my way of thinking, which was at that time still completely 
unconscious, the highest tragedy clothed itself in the greatest coolness, that is 
to say, I saw that the greatest coolness is the highest tragedy. This is that cosmic 
tragedy in which the human element is only one sound, only a single voice, 
whose focus is transposed to within a sphere that approaches the divine. One 
must employ such expressions with care, and not play with them. Here, however, 
I use them consciously, and feel entitled to do so, for at this point I am speaking 
not about my own pictures, but about a kind of art that has never yet been 
personified and in its abstract being still waits for incarnation. 

It was in this spirit, as far as I personally am concerned, that I painted many 



Ib Expression and the Primitive 97 

pictures (Picture with Zig Zag, Composition 5 and 6, etc.). I was, however, certain 
that if I lived long enough, I should enter into the realm I saw before my eyes. 
Just as one sees the summit of the mountain from below. 

For the same reason, I became more and more strongly attracted by the 
unskilled. I abbreviated the expressive element by lack of expression. By the 
external position in which I placed it, I would emphasize an element that was 
in itself not very clear in its expression. I deprived my colors of their clarity 
of tone, dampening them on the surface and allowing their purity and true 
nature to glow forth, as if through frosted glass. Improvisation 22 and Composition 
5 are painted in this way, as well as, for the most part, Composition 6. [ . . . ] 
Composition 2 is painted without theme, and perhaps at that time I would have 
been nervous of taking a theme as my starting point. On the other hand, I 
calmly chose the Resurrection as the theme for Composition 5, and the Deluge 
for the sixth. One needs a certain daring if one is to take such outworn themes 
as the starting point for pure painting. It was for me a trial of strength, which 
in my opinion has turned out for the best. 

The pictures painted since then have neither any theme as their point of 
departure, nor any forms of corporeal origin. This occurred without force, quite 
naturally, and of its own accord. In these latter years, forms that have arisen 
of their own accord right from the beginning have gained an ever-increasing 
foothold, and I immersed myself more and more in the manifold value of abstract 
|lements. In this way, abstract forms gained the upper hand and softly but 
furely crowded out those forms that are of representational origin. 
;;*, Thus, I circumnavigated and left behind me the three greatest dangers on the 
path I had foreseen. These were: 

1 The danger of stylized form, which either comes into the world stillborn, 
or else, too weak to live, quickly dies. 

2 The danger of ornamental form, the form belonging mainly to external 
beauty, which can be, and as a rule is outwardly expressive and inwardly 
expressionless. 

3 The danger of experimental form, which comes into being by means of 
experimentation, i.e., completely without intuition, possessing, like every form, 
a certain inner sound, but one that deceitfully simulates internal necessity. 

Inner maturity, upon which in general I have firmly relied, but which has 
afforded me nonetheless many a bitter hour of hopelessness, has of itself created 
the [necessary] formal element. 

As has been said often enough, it is impossible to make clear the aim of a 
work of art by means of words. Despite a certain superficiality with which this 
assertion is leveled and in particular exploited, it is by and large correct, and 
remains so even at a time of the greatest education and knowledge of language 
and its material. And this assertion - I now abandon the realm of objective 
reasoning - is also correct because the artist himself can never either grasp or 
recognize fully his own goal. 

And finally: the best of words are no use to him whose sensibilities have 
remained at an embryonic stage. 



98 The Legacy of Symbolism 

In conclusion, therefore, I shall embark upon the negative path and explain 
as clearly as possible what I do not want. Many assertions of present-day art 
criticism are refuted in the process, for such criticism has, alas, until now been 
often rebarbative and has shouted falsehoods into the ears of many who were 
inclined to hear. 

I do not want to paint music. 

I do not want to paint states of mind [Seelenzustdnde]. 

I do not want to paint coloristically or uncoloristically. 

I do not want to alter, contest, or overthrow any single point in the harmony 
of the masterpieces of the past. 

I do not want to show the future its true path. 

Apart from my theoretical works, which until now from an objective, scientific 
point of view leave much to be desired, I only want to paint good, necessary, 
living pictures, which are experienced properly by at least a few viewers. 



9 Franz Marc (1880-1916) 'The "Savages" of 
Germany' and 'Two Pictures' 

Marc was co-editor with Kandinsky of the almanac Der 8/aue Re/ter, in which the present 
two texts were originally published in 1912. in his own paintings Marc purveyed a 
mystical approach to the natural and animal world, as a form of refusal of the urban and 
technical emphases of modern life. In these extracts Marc surveys the various groups 
composing the Expressionist avant-garde in Germany and justifies their evident unpopu- 
larity in terms of an epochal historical rupture. These translations are taken from 
K. Lankheit (ed.), The Blaue Reiter Almanac, English version, London, 1974. 



The 'Savages * of Germany 

In this time of the great struggle for a new art we fight like disorganized 'savages 1 
against an old, established power. The battle seems to be unequal, but spiritual 
matters are never decided by numbers, only by the power of ideas. 

The dreaded weapons of the 'savages' are their new ideas. New ideas kill better 
than steel and destroy what was thought to be indestructible. 

Who are these 'savages' in Germany? 

For the most part they are both well known and widely disparaged: the Briicke 
in Dresden, the Neue Sezession in Berlin, and the Neue Vereinigung in Munich. 
* * * 

It is impossible to explain the recent works of these 'savages' as a formal 
development and new interpretation of impressionism . . . The most beautiful 
prismatic colors and the celebrated cubism are now meaningless goals for these 
'savages.' 

Their thinking has a different aim: To create out of their work symbols for 
their own time, symbols that belong on the altars of a future spiritual religion, 



Ib Expression and the Primitive 99 

symbols behind which the technical heritage cannot be seen. 

Scorn and stupidity will be like roses in their path. 

Not all the official 'savages' in or out of Germany dream of this kind of art 
and of these high aims. 

All the worse for them. After easy successes they will perish from their own 
superficiality despite all their programs, cubist and otherwise. 

But we believe - at least we hope we are justified in believing - that apart 
from all these 'savage' groups in the forefront there are many quiet powers in 
Germany struggling with the same high, distant goals and that ideas are silently 
maturing unknown to the heralds of the battle. 

In the dark, without knowing them, we give them our hand. 

Two Pictures 

It can be sensed that there is a new religion arising in the country, still without 
a prophet, recognized by no one. 
- Religions die slowly. 

But the artistic style that was the inalienable possession of an earlier era 
collapsed catastrophically in the middle of the nineteenth century. There has 
been no style since. It is perishing all over the world as if seized by an epidemic. 
Since then, serious art has been the work of individual artists whose art has 
had nothing to do with 'style' because they were not in the least connected with 
the style or the needs of the masses. Their works arose rather in defiance of 
their times. They are characteristic, fiery signs of a new era that increase daily 
everywhere. This book will be their focus until dawn comes and with its natural 
light removes from these works the spectral appearance they now have. What 
appears spectral today will be natural tomorrow. 

Where are such signs and works? How do we recognize the genuine ones? 
{ Like everything genuine, its inner life guarantees its truth. All works of art 
created by truthful minds without regard for the work's conventional exterior 
remain genuine for all times, 
v * * 

The present isolation of the rare, genuine artist is absolutely unavoidable for the 
moment. [ . . . ] 

The reasons, we think, are these: nothing occurs accidentally and without 
organic reason - not even the loss of artistic style in the nineteenth century. 
This fact leads us to the idea that we are standing today at the turning point 
of two long epochs, similar to the state of the world fifteen hundred years ago, 
When there was also a transitional period without art and religion - a period in 
^hich great and traditional ideas died and new and unexpected ones took their 
#face. Nature would not wantonly destroy the religion and art of the people 
without a great purpose. We are also convinced that we can already proclaim 
the first signs of the time. 

The first works of a new era are tremendously difficult to define. Who can 
see clearly what their aim is and what is to come? But just the fact that they 
do exist and appear in many places today, sometimes independently of each 



100 The Legacy of Symbolism 

other, and that they possess inner truth, makes us certain that they are the first 
signs of the coming new epoch - they are the signal fires for the pathfinders. 
The hour is unique. Is it too daring to call attention to the small, unique 
signs of the time? 

10 August Macke (1887-1914) 'Masks' 

Macke was associated with Kandinsky and Marc in Munich in 1909-10 and joined with 
them in the formation of Der Blaue Reiter. Originally published in the Biaue Reiter 
almanac in 1912, the present text furnishes a typical case of the association of 
Modernism with the primitive, and of that diversification in the interests of art and art 
history which took place in Germany at the turn of the century. This translation from 
Lankheit, op. cit. 

[. . .] Is life not more precious than food and the body not more precious than 
clothing? 

Incomprehensible ideas express themselves in comprehensible forms. Com- 
prehensible through our senses as star, thunder, flower, as form. 

Form is a mystery to us for it is the expression of mysterious powers. Only 
through it do we sense the secret powers, the invisible God.' 

The senses are our bridge between the incomprehensible and the comprehensible. 

To behold plants and animals is: to perceive their secret. 

To hear the thunder is: to perceive its secret. To understand the language of 
forms means: to be closer to the secret, to live. 

To create forms means: to live. Are not children more creative in drawing directly 
from the secret of their sensations than the imitator of Greek forms? Are not savages 
artists who have forms of their own powerful as the form of thunder? 

Thunder, flower, any force expresses itself as form. So does man. He, too, 
is driven by something to find words for conceptions, to find clearness in 
obscurity, consciousness in the unconscious. This is his life, his creation. 

As man changes, so do his forms change. 

The relations that numerous forms bear to one another enable us to recognize 
the individual form. Blue first becomes visible against red, the greatness of the 
tree against the smallness of the butterfly, the youth of the child against the age 
of the old man. One and two make three. The formless, the infinite, the zero 
remain incomprehensible. God remains incomprehensible. 

Man expresses his life in forms. Each form of art is an expression of his inner 
life. The exterior of the form of art is its interior. 

Each genuine form of art emerges from a living correlation of man to the real 
substance of the forms of nature, the forms of art. The scent of a flower, the 
joyful leaping of a dog, a dancer, the donning of jewelry, a temple, a painting, 
a style, the life of a nation, of an era. 

The flower opens at sunrise. Seeing his prey, the panther crouches, and as a 
result of seeing it, his strength grows. And the tension of his strength shows 
in the length of his leap. The form of art, its style, is a result of tension. 



Ib Expression and the Primitive 101 

In our complicated and confused era we have forms that absolutely enthrall 

ji^veryone in exactly the same way as the fire dance enthralls the African or the 

1 mysterious drumming of the fakirs enthralls the Indian. As a soldier, the 

§J independent scholar stands beside the farmer's son. They both march in review 

;; similarly through the ranks, whether they like it or not. At the movies the 

H professor marvels alongside the servant girl. In the vaudeville theater the 

^utterfly-colored dancer enchants the most amorous couples as intensely as the 

solemn sound of the organ in a Gothic cathedral seizes both believer and 

unbeliever. 

Forms are powerful expressions of powerful life. Differences in expression 
come from the material, word, color, sound, stone, wood, metal. One need not 
understand each form. One also need not read each language. 

The contemptuous gesture with which connoisseurs and artists have to this 
day banished all artistic forms of primitive cultures to the fields of ethnology 
or applied art is amazing at the very least. 

What we hang on the wall as a painting is basically similar to the carved and 
painted pillars in an African hut. The African considers his idol the comprehen- 
sible form for an incomprehensible idea, the personification of an abstract 
concept. For us the painting is the comprehensible form for the obscure, 
[J incomprehensible conception of a deceased person, of an animal, of a plant, of 
the whole magic of nature, of the rhythmical. [. . .] 

Everywhere, forms speak in a sublime language right in the face of European 
aesthetics. Even in the games of children, in the hat of a cocotte, in the joy of 
a sunny day, invisible ideas materialize quietly. 
The joys, the sorrows of man, of nations, lie behind the inscriptions, paintings, 
| temples, cathedrals, and masks, behind the musical compositions, stage spec- 
tacles, and dances. If they are not there, if form becomes empty and groundless, 
then there is no art. 



11 Emil Nolde (1867-1956) 'On Primitive Art' 

The painter Nolde was a member of the Brucke from 1906 to 1908. His work is central 
to the characterization of a specifically German form of Expressionism. In the paintings 
by which he is best known, 'primitive' figure types are used to evoke emotional and 
religious themes. The present text was incorporated in Nolde's autobiographical Jahre 
der Kampfe [Years of Struggle] 1912-1914, Berlin, Rembrandt, 1934, pp. 172^8, with 
a note to the effect that it had been written in 1912 to introduce an intended book 'on 
the artistic expressions of primitive peoples' on which Nolde was working at the time. 
The present translation is made from the 1934 edition. 



1 'The most perfect art was Greek art. Raphael is the greatest of all masters 
in painting.' Such were the doctrines of every art teacher only twenty or 
thirty years ago. 

2 Since then, much has changed. We do not care for Raphael, and are less 
enthusiastic about the statues of the so-called golden age of Greece. Our 
predecessors' ideals are not ours. Works signed by great names over the 



102 The Legacy of Symbolism 

centuries appeal to us less. In the hurry and bustle of their times, worldly- 
wise artists created works for Popes and palaces. It is the ordinary people 
who laboured in their workshops and of whose lives scarcely anything is now 
known, whose very names have not come down to us, that we love and 
respect today in their plain, large-scale carvings in the cathedrals of Naum- 
burg, Magdeburg and Bamberg. 

3 Our museums are getting large and crammed and are growing rapidly. I am 
not keen on these vast collections, deadening by virtue of their sheer mass. 
A reaction against such excess must surely come soon. 

4 Not long ago only a few artistic periods were thought suitable for museums. 
Then they were joined by exhibitions of Coptic and early Christian art, 
Greek terracottas and vases, Persian and Islamic art. But why is Indian, 
Chinese and Javanese art still classified under ethnology or anthropology? 
And why is the art of primitive peoples not considered art at all? 

5 What is it about these primitive forms of expression that appeals so much 
to us artists? 

6 In our own time, every earthenware vessel or piece of jewellery, every utensil 
or garment, has to be designed on paper before it is made. Primitive peoples, 
however, create their works with the material itself in the artist's hand, held 
in his fingers. They aspire to express delight in form and the love of creating 
it. Absolute originality, the intense and often grotesque expression of power and 
life in very simple forms - that may be why we like these works of native art. 

12 Oskar Kokoschka (1886-1980) 'On the Nature of 
Visions' 

Kokoschka's brief text condenses many of those themes which pervaded the Austro- 
German Expressionist avant-garde in the years before the First World War. Not yet 
inflected by politics, as Expressionism was to be by the war, Kokoschka's preoccupation 
is with that constant of German Idealism: the Spirit. He offers a vitalism in which the 
soul, notably the soul of the artist - free, untramelled, and marked by a kind of fierce 
innocence - is in direct harmony with the forces of nature and the universe. Tellingly, 
his metaphors tend to the Biblical. Originally delivered as a lecture in Vienna, 26 January 
1912, the text appeared in English translation by Heidi Medlinger and John Thwaites in 
Edith Hoffmann, Kokoschka. Life and Work, London, 1947, pp. 285-7, from which the 
present version is taken. 

The state of awareness of visions is not one in which we are either remembering 
or perceiving. It is rather a level of consciousness at which we experience visions 
within ourselves. 

This experience cannot be fixed; for the vision is moving, an impression 
growing and becoming visual, imparting a power to the mind. It can be evoked 
but never defined. 

Yet the awareness of such imagery is a part of living. It is life selecting from 
the forms which flow towards it or refraining, at will. 

A life which derives its power from within itself will focus the perception of 



Ib Expression and the Primitive 103 

such images. And yet this free visualizing in itself - whether it is complete or 
hardly yet perceptible, or undefined in either space or time - this has its own 
power running through. The effect is such that the visions seem actually to 
modify one's consciousness, at least in respect of everything which their own 
form proposes as their pattern and significance. This change in oneself, which 
follows on the vision's penetration of one's very soul, produces the state of 
awareness, of expectancy. At the same time there is an outpouring of feeling 
into the image which becomes, as it were, the soul's plastic embodiment. This 
state of alertness of the mind or consciousness has, then, a waiting, receptive 
quality. It is like an unborn child, as yet unfelt even by the mother, to whom 
nothing of the outside world slips through. And yet whatever affects his mother, 
all that impresses her down to the slightest birthmark on the skin, all is 
implanted in him. As though he could use her eyes, the unborn receives through 
her his visual impressions, even while he is himself unseen. < 

The life of the consciousness is boundless. It interpenetrates the world and 
is woven through all its imagery. Thus it shares those characteristics of living 
which our human existence can show. One tree left living in an arid land would 
carry in its seed the potency from whose roots all the forests of the earth might 
spring. So with ourselves; when we no longer inhabit our perceptions they do 

^not go out of existence; they continue as though with a power of their own, 
awaiting the focus of another consciousness. There is no more room for death; 

|, for though the vision disintegrates and scatters, it does so only to reform in 

I another mode. 

Therefore we must harken closely to our inner voice. We must strive through 
||he penumbra of words to the core within. 'The Word became flesh and dwelt 
among us.' And then the inner core breaks free - now feebly and now violently 

I? from the words within which it dwells like a charm. 4 It happened to me 
According to the Word.' 

If we will surrender our closed personalities, so full of tension, we are in a 
position to accept this magical principle of living, whether in thought, intuition, 
or in our relationships. For in fact we see every day beings who are absorbed 
in one another, whether in living or in teaching, aimless or with direction. So 
it is with every created thing, everything we can communicate, every constant 
in the flux of living; each one has its own principle which shapes it, keeps life 
in it, and maintains it in our consciousness. Thus it is preserved, like a rare 
species, from extinction. We may identify it with 'me' or 'you' according to 
our estimate of its scale or its infinity. For we set aside the self and personal 
existence as being fused into a larger experience. All that is required of us is 
to RELEASE CONTROL. Some part of ourselves will bring us into the unison. 
The inquiring spirit rises from stage to stage, until it encompasses the whole 
of Nature. All laws are left behind. One's soul is a reverberation of the universe. 
Then too, as I believe, one's perception reaches out towards the Word, towards 
awareness of the vision. 

As I said at first, this awareness of visions can never fully be described, its 
history can never be delimited, for it is a part of life itself. Its essence is a 
flowing and a taking form. It is love, delighting to lodge itself in the mind. 



104 The Legacy of Symbolism 

This adding of something to ourselves - we may accept it or let it pass; but as 
soon as we are ready it will come to us by impulse, from the very breathing of 
our life. An image will take shape for us suddenly, at the first look, as the first 
cry of a newborn child emerging from its mother's womb. 

Whatever the orientation of a life, its significance will depend on this ability 
to conceive the vision. Whether the image has a material or an immaterial 
character depends simply on the angle from which the flow of psychic energy 
is viewed, whether at ebb or flood. 

It is true that the consciousness is not exhaustively defined by these images 
moving, these impressions which grow and become visual, imparting a power 
to the mind which we can evoke at will. For of the forms which come into the 
consciousness some are chosen while others are excluded arbitrarily. 

But this awareness of visions which I endeavor to describe is the viewpoint 
of all life as though it were seen from some high place; it is like a ship which 
was plunged into the seas and flashes again as a winged thing in the air. 

Consciousness is the source of all things and of all conceptions. It is a sea 
ringed about with visions. 

My mind is the tomb of all those things which have ceased to be the true 
Hereafter into which they enter. So that at last nothing remains; all that is 
essential of them is their image within myself. The life goes out of them into 
that image as in the lamp the oil is drawn up through the wick for nourishing 
the flame. 

So each thing, as it communicates itself to me, loses its substance and passes 
into the HEREAFTER WHICH IS MY mind. I incorporate its image which I can 
evoke without the intermediacy of dreams. 'Whenever two or three are gathered 
together in My name, I am in their midst' [Matt. 18:20]. And, as though it 
could go out to men, my vision is maintained, fed, as the lamp is by its oil, 
from the abundance of their living. If I am asked to make all this plain and 
natural the things themselves must answer for me, as it were, bearing their own 
witness. For I have represented them, I have taken their place and put on their 
semblance through my visions. It is the psyche which speaks. 

I search, inquire, and guess. And with what sudden eagerness must the lamp 
wick seek its nourishment, for the flame leaps before my eyes as the oil feeds 
it. It is all my imagination, certainly, what I see there in the blaze. But if I 
have drawn something from the fire and you have missed it, well, I should like 
to hear from those whose eyes are still untouched. For is this not my vision? 
Without intent I draw from the outside world the semblance of things; but in 
this way I myself become part of the world's imaginings. Thus in everything 
imagination is simply that which is natural. It is nature, vision, life. 



13 Alexander Shevchenko (1888-1948) 
'Neo-Primitivism' 

The painter Shevchenko was one of the several members of the Russian avant-garde 
who combined an interest in the artistic culture of the peasantry with an informed 



Ib Expression and the Primitive 105 

assimilation of French cubism. He contributed to the 'Donkey's tail' group exhibition in 
March 1912, and his essay was published as a pamphlet in Moscow during the following 
year. Its full title is 'Neo-Primitivism: Its Theory, Its Potentials, Its Achievements'. The 
present translation is from the French version by Anne Durufle, in T. Andersen Art et 
Poesies Russes 1900-1930. Textes choisis, Paris Centre Pompidou, 1979. (A lubokis a 
form of vernacular Russian woodcut.) 

We who hold neo-primitivism to be the artist's religion say: 

Physical nature in the true sense no longer exists. It has become the foundation 
of apartment blocks, and the asphalt of pavements and streets. Physical nature 
is nothing but a memory, like a tale about something marvellous that has long 
since disappeared. 

The Factory-Town dominates everything. 

Perpetual movement, endless coming and going, nightmarish and confused 
visions of the city follow one after the other. In the daylight which is obscured 
by houses, in the light created by the electric suns of the night, life appears 
completely different to us, full of other new forms. 

The world has been transformed into a monstrous, fantastic, perpetually 
moving machine; into an enormous automatic organism, inanimate, a gigantic 
whole constructed on a strict correspondence and balance of parts. 

We and the entire world are parts of the whole. 

Robot-like, we have become habituated to life - getting up, going to bed, 
eating and working to set times; and this sense of rhythm and mechanical 
harmony is reflected in our entire life, cannot but be reflected in our mode of 
thought, in our spiritual life, in art. 

A simple, physical copy of nature can no longer satisfy us. 

We are used to seeing surrounding nature modified, embellished by the hands 
of man the creator, and we can only demand the same of art. 

Such is the creation of the century in which we live. 

Naturalistic painting does not exist for us, just as nature does not exist without 
cleared, sanded or asphalted roads, without water-mains and artificial light, 
without telephone or tramway. 

We are endeavouring to find new paths for our art, but we do not reject the 
old forms altogether, and of these we acknowledge above all primitive art, magic 
tales of the ancient Orient. 

The simple and innocent beauty of the luhok, the austerity of primitive art, 
the mechanical precision of construction, the stylistic nobility and beautiful 
colours gathered together by the creative hand of the master artist, that is our 
watchword and slogan. 

Life without movement is nothing, and that is why we always try not to 
restrict the form of objects to a single plane, but to communicate their movement 
by representing their intermediate forms. 

Beauty only resides in the harmony of simple combinations of forms and 
colours. Mannered beauty borders on the illusory sophistication of the market, 
a product of the corruption of popular taste. 



Ik 



106 The Legacy of Symbolism 

Primitives, icons, lubki, trays, signboards, fabrics of the Orient . . . these are 
the models of real value and of pictorial beauty. 

The words 'Art' (that is to say fiction) and 'Nature' (that is to say reality), 
intersect to become 'the creative will of the painter 1 , which takes its materials 
from divergent sources. That is why we do not aim for a naturalistic resemblance 
to nature in our paintings. 

Nature is a raw material, which only excites in our souls this or that emotion 
at the moment when we carry out what we have conceived of within the plan 
of the painting. 

One should copy neither art nor life, but instead observe them and study 
them both ceaselessly. In art, the observation and the study of nature must have 
as a point of departure a subject of art itself. We take as the starting-point of 
our art the lubok, primitive art, and the icon, for there we find a more 
precise, more direct perception of life and one which is, furthermore, purely 
pictorial. 

Just like the primitivists and the painters of the East, we consider that the 
most valuable and productive work is that which is guided by direct perception. 
This opens up greater possibilities to the artist to reveal his own conception of 
the world, and does not distract attention with unnecessary details, which too 
often happens when one works from nature. 
* * * 

The word Neo-primitivism itself is a word which both characterizes the 
evolution of pictorial realizations, their origin in primitive art, and likewise 
testifies that they belong to our era. 

There are not and there cannot be phenomena arising from nothing. 

Ideas are not born but reborn, and so everything that is normal is successive 
and develops from preceding forms. 

Such is our school which, taking primitive art as its source, develops in the 
contemporary era. 

Generally it is admissible to describe as primitive, not only the simplicity, 
the clumsiness of past artists, but also folk art, for which there is a specific 
name, the lubok. The word primitive directly reveals an Oriental origin, for 
today it reflects the entire spectrum of Oriental art -Japanese, Chinese, Korean, 
Indo-Persian art . . . 

In our school, this notion reveals the character of painting (not of the subject), 
the manner of execution, the use of pictorial traditions of the Orient. 

This initiation to the Orient is an inner and spiritual one. But this is not a 
simple imitation, of which one usually says 'it is in an Oriental style'; for 
example, Stelletski, whose works in no way speak of old Russia, of Byzantium, 
of icons, does not achieve this. This is nothing but historicism, the examining 
of lofty ideas in the manner of a dilettante, an imitation lacking perception, 
whereas the icons are completely suffused by the Orient and by Byzantium and 
at the same time remain completely original. 

Neo-primitivism is a profoundly national phenomenon. 

Russia and the Orient have been indissolubly linked since the Tartar invasions, 
and the spirit of the Tartars, the spirit of the Orient, is embedded in our lives 



Ib Expression and the Primitive 107 

to such a degree that it is sometimes difficult to distinguish where the national 
character trait ends and where the influence of the Orient begins. 

All human culture has in general come from Asia, not the other way round 
as certain people assert. 

Our entire Asiatic culture and the foreign masters, the architects, weavers, 
artists, and all those from the Occident carrying within them a spark of European 
civilization, fell immediately in our barbarous country under the influence of 
the Tartar culture, of the Orient, of our more original, more passionate culture, 
and the Occidental civilization was reduced to dust before the Oriental culture. 

Take our ancient Russian painting. It suffices to compare our grass writing 
with the tapestries of the Orient, our 'spiritual and moral painting' and its direct 
extension - the popular images and the lubki - with Indo-Persian painting, to 
discover quite clearly their common origin, their spiritual affinity. 

In other countries, the influence of the Orient is no less evident, no less 
grandiose; the forms of Occidental art fashioned themselves entirely from 
Byzantine forms, which had been borrowed in their turn from the even older 
art of Georgia and Armenia. 

Thus one comes full circle, a progression of the arts from us, the Orient, the 
Caucasus, towards Byzantium; then to Italy, borrowing from there techniques 
of oil painting and the easel; then returning to us. 

Hence the epithets like 'Frenchified Painting' in which, if we take our 
investigation further, we find the splendour of our Barbary once again, the 
primitive art of the Orient, more so than the Occident with its simple, 
naturalistic, sometimes quite absurd imitation of nature. 

, All of this can in a sufficient measure justify our enthusiasm for the art of the 
Orient. It has become evident that there is no other reason to use the products 
of the Occident, which received them from the Orient, all the more so since 
after their long circular voyage they have had plenty of time to spoil and rot. 

There is no longer any reason since we have daily and direct contact with 
Asia. 

We are called Barbarians, Asiatics. 

Yes, we are Asia and we are proud of it because 'Asia is the cradle of Nations 1 , 
a good measure of Tartar blood flows in our veins and we salute the Orient 
which is to come, ultimate origin, cradle of culture, of all the arts. 

Hence Neo-primitivism which takes the Orient as its origin is not the 
repetition, the popularization of the Oriental which inevitably renders all art 
forms banal; no, it is entirely original. The Orient is reflected in Neo-primitiv- 
ism to a great extent, for instance in the interpretation, the traditions; yes, but 
our own national art plays a large role. (Just as when children create art.) This 
primitive art which is unique in its genre, is always profound and true, created 
where our Asiatic origin can be found in all its plenitude. 

Nor is Neo-primitivism a stranger to Occidental forms and we declare openly: 

Asia has given us all the depth of its culture, its primitive nature, and Europe 
has in its turn added some traits of its own civilization. 

Thus Neo-primitivism is born of the fusion of Oriental traditions and the 
forms of the Occident. [ . . . ] 



108 The Legacy of Symbolism 

14 Benedetto Croce (1866-1952) 'What Is Art?' 

The Italian philosopher Croce was an influential exponent of the view that art is to be 
identified with intuition, rather than with any physical object or range of objects. There 
are clear links between his aesthetic theory and the work of such Modernist critics as 
Roger Fry and Clive Bell. Croce's Guide to Aesthetics was originally published as 
Brevario di estetica in 1913. The present extract is taken from the opening chapter in 
the translation by Patrick Romanell, Indianapolis, 1965. 

[ . . . ] The question as to what art is - let me answer it immediately and in the 
simplest manner: art is vision or intuition. The artist produces an image or 
picture. The person who enjoys art turns his eyes in the direction which the 
artist has pointed out to him, peers through the hole which has been opened 
for him, and reproduces in himself the artist's image. 'Intuition,' 'vision,' 
'contemplation,' 'imagination,' 'fancy,' 'invention, 1 'representation,' and so forth, 
are words which continually reappear as almost synonymous in discussions on 
art. All of them give rise in our minds to the same concept or to the same set 
of concepts - a sign of universal consent. 

But this answer of mine, that art is intuition, acquires significance as well as 
strength from all that it implicitly denies and from which art is distinguished. 
What are the negations it, includes? I shall indicate the chief ones, or at least 
those most important for us at our present moment of culture. 

The answer denies, above all, that art is a physical fact, as, for example, certain 
particular colors or combinations of colors, forms of the body, sounds or 
combinations of sounds, phenomena of heat or electricity - in brief, anything 
which goes under the name of 'physical.' [. . .] 

... to overcome the strange and harsh sound of the truth in question or to 
become familiar with it, we should take into consideration that the proof of the 
unreality of the physical world has not only been established in an irrefutable 
way and is conceded by all philosophers (who are neither crass materialists nor 
involved in the strident contradictions of materialism), but that the proof itself 
is being acknowledged by the physicists themselves - as evident in the traces 
of philosophy which they mix in with their science - when they conceive 
physical phenomena as manifestations of principles which go beyond experience, 
such as the atoms or the ether, or as the manifestation of an Unknowable. 
Besides, the very Matter of the materialists is a supermaterial principle. Thus, 
physical facts, by their internal logic and by common consent, make themselves 
known not as something truly real, but as a construction of our intellect for purposes 
of science. Consequently, the question as to whether art is a physical fact should 
rationally assume another meaning, namely, whether art may be constructed 
physically. 

This is certainly possible, and we actually do so whenever, on diverting our 
attention from the sense of a poem, or on giving up its enjoyment, we begin, 
say, to count the words of which the poem is composed and divide them into 
syllables and letters. Or whenever, on diverting our attention from the aesthetic 



Ib Expression and the Primitive 109 

effect of a statue, we measure it and weigh it. To do so is, no doubt, of the 
greatest utility to packers of statues, as to count words is useful to printers who 
have to 'compose' pages of poetry! But it is utterly useless to the contemplator 
or student of art, to whom it is not useful or permissible 'to divert his attention' 
from his proper object. Not even, therefore, in this second sense is art a physical 
fact, because when we undertake to penetrate its nature and its mode of 
operation, it is of no avail to make a physical thing out of it. 

Another negation implicit in the definition of art as intuition is that if art is 
intuition, and if intuition signifies theory in the original sense of contemplation, 
then art cannot be a utilitarian act. For, inasmuch as a utilitarian act aims always 
at arriving at a pleasure and, hence, at removing a pain, art considered in terms 
of its own nature has nothing to do with the useful, or with pleasure and pain, 
as such. 

It will be admitted in effect, without too much opposition, that a pleasure as 
pleasure, any pleasure whatever, is not in itself artistic. The pleasure from a 
drink of water which quenches our thirst is not artistic. Neither is a walk in 
the open air which stretches our limbs and makes our blood circulate more 
rapidly, nor is the attainment of a coveted post which results in lending security 
to our practical life, and so forth. Even in the relations which develop between 
ourselves and works of art, the difference between pleasure and art is self- 
evident. For the figure represented may be dear to us and awaken the most 
delightful memories, but the picture may be ugly, nevertheless. On the other 
hand, the picture may be beautiful, but the figure represented abominable to 
our soul. Or the picture itself, which we approve as beautiful, may provoke 
later a fit of rage and envy, owing to its being a work of an enemy or a rival, 
to whom it will bring certain advantages and renewed vigor. Our practical 
interests, with their correlative pleasures and pains, are blended, become con- 
fused now and then, and disquiet our aesthetic interest, but never become united 
with it. 

At most, to defend on more valid grounds the definition of art as the 
pleasurable, one might argue that art is not the pleasurable in general but a 
special form of it. However, this restriction is no longer a defense but rather 
an actual abandonment of that thesis. For assuming that art is a special form 
of the pleasurable, it follows that its distinctive character would not be supplied 
by the pleasurable as such, but by whatever distinguishes the artistic from other 
forms of the pleasurable. And it is to that distinctive element apart from the 
pleasurable, or different from it, to which it would be fitting to address the 
inquiry. [. . .] 

A third negation effected with the help of the theory of art as intuition is 
the denial of art as a moral act. In other words, it denies that art is that form 
of practical activity which, though necessarily associated with the useful and 
with pleasure and pain, is not immediately utilitarian and hedonistic, operating 
as it does on a higher spiritual plane. Even so, as theoretical activity, intuition 
is against anything practical. In fact, as has been observed from time immemo- 
rial, art does not originate from an act of will. Good will, which constitutes the 
honest man, does not constitute the artist. Moreover, since art is not born from 



110 The Legacy of Symbolism 

an act of wili, it likewise is not subject to any moral evaluation, not because an 
exemption privilege is accorded to it, but simply because no way is available to 
apply moral distinctions to it. An artistic image can depict a morally praise- 
worthy or blameworthy action. But the image itself, as such, is neither praise- 
worthy nor blameworthy, morally. Not only is there no penal code which can 
condemn an image to prison or to death, but no moral judgment passed by a 
reasonable person could ever address itself to it as its object. Otherwise, to judge 
Dante's Francesca immoral or Shakespeare's Cordelia moral (these perform a 
mere artistic function, being like musical notes within Dante's and Shakespeare's 
souls) would be just as valid as to judge a square moral or a triangle immoral. 

Furthermore, the moralistic theory of art is also represented in the history of 
aesthetic doctrines and is not altogether dead even today, although it is much 
discredited in current opinion. However, it is discredited not only for its internal 
defect, but, in addition, to some extent, on account of the moral shortcomings 
of some present tendencies which facilitate, thanks to psychological jargon, that 
refutation which should be made - and which we are here doing - solely on 
logical grounds. From the moralistic doctrine is derived art's pre-established 
goal to serve as a guide to the good, inspire the abhorrence of evil, correct and 
improve manners and morals. And from the same source comes the demand 
that artists contribute to the public education of the lower classes, the reinforcing 
of the national or warlike spirit of a people, the spreading of the ideals of a 
modest and industrious life, and so on. 

All of which are things that art cannot do, any more than can geometry, which, 
notwithstanding, does not lose any of its respectability on this account; and in 
view of this, one does not see why art should lose any of its, either. [ . . . ] 

[. . .] The moralistic doctrine has also its true side. For if art is beyond 
morals, the artist is not, since he is neither beyond nor this side of it, but under 
its dominion. Insofar as he is a man, the artist cannot shirk the duties of man 
and should consider art itself - which is not and never will be morals - as a 
mission, to be practised like a priesthood. 

Furthermore (and this is the last, and perhaps the most important, of the 
general negations which it suits my purposes to mention here), with the 
definition of art as intuition goes the denial that it has the character of conceptual 
knowledge. Conceptual knowledge in its pure form (which is that of the 
philosophical) is always oriented toward reality and aims to establish the real as 
distinguished from the unreal, or to diminish unreality in status by including 
it within reality as a subordinate part of itself. In contrast, intuition refers 
precisely to the lack of distinction between reality and unreality - to the image 
itself - with its purely ideal status as mere image. 

The contrast being made here between intuitive or sensuous and conceptual 
or intellectual knowledge, between aesthetics and noetics, is aimed at restoring 
the autonomy of this simpler and elementary form of knowledge, which has 
been compared with the dream (dream, certainly not sleep) of the theoretical 
life, with respect to which philosophy would be the waking state. Accordingly, 
whoever before a work of art asks whether what the artist has expressed be 
metaphysically or historically true or false is asking a meaningless question, and 



Ib Expression and the Primitive 111 

falls into the error analogous to the one of the man who wants to bring before 
the tribunal of morality the ethereal images of fancy. 

The question is meaningless because the distinction of true and false always 
concerns an assertion about reality, that is, a judgment, and thus is not applicable 
to the presentation of an image or to a mere subject - which is not the subject 
in a proposition, lacking as it does attribute or predicate. It is useless to object 
that the individual character of the image has no meaning without a reference 
to the universal, of which that image is its individuation. For here we certainly 
are not denying that the universal, like the spirit of God, is everywhere and 
animates everything from within itself. But we are denying that the universal 
is logically explicit or thought out in intuition as such. And likewise is it useless 
to appeal to the principle of the unity of the spirit, which is not weakened but 
rather strengthened by our precise distinction between fancy and thought, because 
only from distinction is opposition born, and concrete unity from opposition. 

Ideality (as this property which distinguishes intuition from concept, art from 
philosophy and history, from assertion of the universal, and from perception or 
narration of events, has also been called) is the quintessence of art. As soon as 
reflection or judgment develops out of that state of ideality, art vanishes and 
dies. It dies in the artist, who changes from artist and becomes his own critic; 
it dies in the spectator or listener, who from rapt contemplator of art changes 
into a thoughtful observer of life. 
• * * 

In reality, intuition is production of an image. But it is not production of an 
incoherent accumulation of images obtained by reconjuring up ancient images, 
letting them succeed each other at will, or combining them in the same arbitrary 
fashion, such as joining the neck of a horse to the human head, as is done in 
a child's game. In order to express this distinction between intuition and fantasy, 
the olden poetics made use, especially, of the concept of unity and required that 
any artistic work produced be simplex et unum\ or it utilized the allied concept 
of unity in variety, according to which the several images were to come to a 
focus and blend into a complex image. To meet the same need, the aesthetics 
of the nineteenth century worked out the distinction (which is found in not a 
few of its philosophers) between fancy (corresponding to the artistic faculty 
proper) and imagination (corresponding to the extra-artistic faculty). To collect, 
select, divide, and combine images presupposes within the spirit the production 
and the possession of the single images themselves. Fancy is a producer, whereas 
imagination is a parasite, fit for incidental occasions but incapable of begetting 
organization and life. [. . .] 

The artistic image (it has been said) is such, when it attaches an intelligible 
to a sensible, and represents an idea. Now 'intelligible' and idea' cannot have 
any other meaning (nor have they had any other for the defenders of this theory) 
than concept, even though it is the concrete concept or idea, which is peculiar 
to lofty philosophical speculation and differs from abstract concepts and from 
those representative of the sciences. But, in any case, the concept or idea unites 
the intelligible with the sensible in every instance, and not solely in art. For 
the new conception of the concept, inaugurated by Kant and immanent (so to 



112 The Legacy of Symbolism 



Ib Expression and the Primitive 113 



speak) in all modern thought, heals the breach between the sensible and the 
intelligible worlds, conceiving as it does the concept as judgment, judgment as 
a priori synthesis, and a priori synthesis as the word which becomes flesh, as 
history. Thus, contrary to intention, that definition of art reduces fancy to logic, 
and art to philosophy. At best, it proves effective against the abstract conception 
of science, but not really as regards the problem of art. (Incidentally, Kant's 
Critique of Judgment - aesthetic and teleological - had precisely such historical 
function of correcting whatever of abstract still remained in the Critique of Pure 
Reason.) To require a sensible element for the concept, besides that one which 
it already possesses inherently as concrete concept, and besides the words by 
means of which it expresses itself, would be a superfluous thing. To be sure, 
if we insist on this requirement, we avoid the conception of art as philosophy 
or as history, but only to fall into the conception of art as allegory. 

The insurmountable difficulties of allegory are well known; so is its barren 
and anti-artistic character known and universally felt. Allegory is the extrinsic 
union, or the conventional and arbitrary juxtaposition of two spiritual facts - a 
concept or thought and an image - whereby it is posited that this image must 
represent that concept. Moreover, not only does recourse to allegory fail to 
explain the integral character of the artistic image, but, what is more, it 
deliberately sets up a duality. For given the juxtaposition of thought and image, 
thought remains thought and image remains image, there being no relation 
between them. So much so that, whenever we contemplate the image, we forget 
the concept without any loss, but, on the contrary, to our gain; and whenever 
we think the concept, we dispel, likewise to our advantage, the superfluous and 
annoying image. 

Allegory met with much favor in the Middle Ages, with its mixture of 
Germanic and Romanic elements, barbarism and culture, bold fancy and subtle 
reflection. However, this was owing to a theoretical prejudice, and not to the 
actual reality of medieval art itself, which, wherever it is art, ejects allegorism 
from itself or resolves it from within. This need to resolve allegoristic dualism 
leads, in fact, to refining the theory of intuition as allegory of the idea to the 
other theory, that of intuition as symbol. For in symbol the idea is no longer 
thinkable by itself, separable from the symbolizing representation, nor is the 
latter representable by itself effectively without the idea symbolized. 

As Vischer the aesthetician (upon whom must fall the blame, if upon anybody, 
for a comparison so prosaic regarding a subject so poetic and metaphysical) used 
to declare, the idea is all dissolved in the representation, just as a lump of sugar 
dissolved in a glass of water continues and functions in each molecule of water, 
yet is no longer recognizable as a lump of sugar. Only, the idea which has 
disappeared and has become all representation, the idea which it is not possible 
any longer to grasp as idea (except by extracting it, like sugar from sweetened 
water), is no longer idea. It is only the sign of the yet-to-be-discovered principle 
of the unity of the artistic image. Certainly, art is symbol, all symbol, that is, 
all significant. But symbol of what? Signifying what? Intuition is truly artistic, 
is truly intuition and not a chaotic accumulation of images, only when it has a 
vital principle which animates it and makes for its complete unity. [. . .] 



15 Clive Bell (1881-1964) 'The Aesthetic Hypothesis' 

Bell assisted Fry with the second of his Post-Impressionist' exhibitions in 1912, and 
the two critics were to be closely identified with the propagandizing of modern art in 
England for the next two decades. The present text is taken from the first chapter of 
Art, first published in London in 1914 and continuously reprinted for the next twenty 
years. Bell's ambitious aim was to provide 'a complete theory of visual art'. On the 
other hand his endeavour was clearly shaped by the specific effects of an enthusiasm 
for modern French painting. What he produced was a forceful and graspable manifesto 
for the broad aesthetic commitments of early twentieth-century Modernism. 

The starting-point for all systems of aesthetics must be the personal experience 
of a peculiar emotion. The objects that provoke this emotion we call works of 
art. All sensitive people agree that there is a peculiar emotion provoked by 
works of art. I do not mean, of course, that all works provoke the same emotion. 
On the contrary, every work produces a different emotion. But all these emotions 
are recognizably the same in kind; so far, at any rate, the best opinion is on 
my side. That there is a particular kind of emotion provoked by works of visual 
art, and that this emotion is provoked by every kind of visual art, by pictures, 
sculptures, buildings, pots, carvings, textiles, &c, &c, is not disputed, I think, 
by anyone capable of feeling it. This emotion is called the aesthetic emotion; 
and if we can discover some quality common and peculiar to all the objects that 
provoke it, we shall have solved what I take to be the central problem of 
aesthetics. We shall have discovered the essential quality in a work of art, the 
quality that distinguishes works of art from all other classes of objects. 

For either all works of visual art have some common quality, or when we 
speak of 'works of art' we gibber. Everyone speaks of 'art 1 , making a mental 
classification by which he distinguishes the class 'works of art' from all other 
classes. What is the justification of this classification? What is the quality 
common and peculiar to all members of this class? Whatever it be, no doubt it 
is often found in company with other qualities; but they are adventitious - it 
is essential. There must be some one quality without which a work of art cannot 
exist; possessing which, in the least degree, no work is altogether worthless. 
What is this quality? What quality is shared by all objects that provoke our 
aesthetic emotions? What quality is common to Sta. Sophia and the windows 
at Chartres, Mexican sculpture, a Persian bowl, Chinese carpets, Giotto's 
frescoes at Padua, and the masterpieces of Poussin, Piero della Francesca, and 
Cezanne? Only one answer seems possible - significant form. In each, lines and 
colours combined in a particular way, certain forms and relations of forms, stir 
°ur aesthetic emotions. These relations and combinations of lines and colours, 
these aesthetically moving forms, I call 'Significant Form'; and 'Significant 
rorm' is the one quality common to all works of visual art. 
* * * 

The hypothesis that significant form is the essential quality in a work of art 
nas at least one merit denied to many more famous and more striking - it does 
°elp to explain things. We are all familiar with pictures that interest us and 



114 The Legacy of Symbolism 

excite our admiration, but do not move us as works of art. To this class belongs 
what I call 'Descriptive Painting' - that is, painting in which forms are used 
not as objects of emotion, but as means of suggesting emotion or conveying 
information. Portraits of psychological and historical value, topographical works, 
pictures that tell stories and suggest situations, illustrations of all sorts, belong 
to this class. That we all recognize the distinction is clear, for who has not said 
that such and such a drawing was excellent as illustration, but as a work of art 
worthless? Of course many descriptive pictures possess, amongst other qualities, 
formal significance, and are therefore works of art: but many more do not. They 
mterest us; they may move us too in a hundred different ways, but they do not 
move us aesthetically. According to my hypothesis they are not works of art. 
They leave untouched our aesthetic emotions because it is not their forms 
but the ideas or information suggested or conveyed bv their forms that affect 
us. [...] 

Most people who care much about art find that of the work that moves them 
most the greater part is what scholars call 'Primitive 1 . Of course there are bad 
primitives. [. . .] But such exceptions are rare. As a rule primitive art is good 
- and here again my hypothesis is helpful - for, as a rule, it is also free from 
descriptive qualities. In primitive art you will find no accurate representation; 
you will find only significant form. Yet no other art moves us so profoundly. 
Whether we consider Sumerian sculpture or pre-dynastic Egyptian art, or archaic 
Greek, or the Wei and T'ang masterpieces, or those early Japanese works of 
which I had the luck to see a few superb examples ... at the Shepherd's Bush 
Exhibition in 1910, or whether, coming nearer home, we consider the primitive 
Byzantine art of the sixth century and its primitive developments amongst the 
Western barbarians, or, turning far afield, we consider that mysterious and 
majestic art that flourished in Central and South America before the coming of 
the white men, in every case we observe three common characteristics - absence 
of representation, absence of technical swagger, sublimely impressive form. 
Nor is it hard to discover the connection between these three. Formal signific- 
ance loses itself in preoccupation with exact representation and ostentatious 
cunning. 

Naturally, it is said that if there is little representation and less saltimbancery 
in primitive art, that is because the primitives were unable to catch a likeness 
or cut intellectual capers. The contention is beside the point. There is truth in 
it, no doubt, though, were I a critic whose reputation depended on a power of 
impressing the public with a semblance of knowledge, I should be more cautious 
about urging it than such people generally are. For to suppose that the Byzantine 
masters wanted skill, or could not have created an illusion had they wished to 
do so, seems to imply ignorance of the amazingly dexterous realism of the 
notoriously bad works of that age. Very often, I fear, the misrepresentation of 
the primitives must be attributed to what the critics call, 'wilful distortion'. Be 
that as it may, the point is that, either from want of skill or want of will, 
primitives neither create illusions, nor make display of extravagant accomplish- 
ment, but concentrate their energies on the one thing needful - the creation of 
form. Thus have thev created the finest works of art that we possess. 



Ib Expression and the Primitive 115 

Let no one imagine that representation is bad in itself; a realistic form may 
be as significant, in its place as part of the design, as an abstract. But if a 
representative form has value, it is as form, not as representation. The repre- 
sentative element in a work of art may or may not be harmful; always it is 
irrelevant. For, to appreciate a work of art we need bring with us nothing from 
life, no knowledge of its ideas and affairs, no familiarity with its emotions. Art 
transports us from the world of man's activity to a world of aesthetic exaltation. 
For a moment we are shut off from human interests; our anticipations and 
memories are arrested; we are lifted above the stream of life. [. . .] 

To appreciate a work of art we need bring with us nothing but a sense of 
form and colour and a knowledge of three-dimensional space. That bit of 
knowledge, I admit, is essential to the appreciation of many great works, since 
many of the most moving forms ever created are in three dimensions. To see 
a cube or a rhomboid as a flat pattern is to lower its significance, and a sense 
of three-dimensional space is essential to the full appreciation of most architec- 
tural forms. Pictures which would be insignificant if we saw them as flat patterns 
are profoundly moving because, in fact, we see them as related planes. If the 
representation of three-dimensional space is to be called 'representation', then 
I agree that there is one kind of representation which is not irrelevant. Also, I 
agree that along with our feeling for line and colour we must bring with us our 
knowledge of space if we are to make the most of every kind of form. 
Nevertheless, there are magnificent designs to an appreciation of which this 
knowledge is not necessary: so, though it is not irrelevant to the appreciation 
of some works of art it is not essential to the appreciation of all. What we must 
say is that the representation of three-dimensional space is neither irrelevant 
nor essential to all art, and that every other sort of representation is irrelevant. 

That there is an irrelevant representative or descriptive element in many great 
works of art is not in the least surprising. . . . Representation is not of necessity 
baneful, and highly realistic forms may be extremely significant. Very often, 
however, representation is a sign of weakness in an artist. A painter too feeble 
to create forms that provoke more than a little aesthetic emotion will try to eke 
that little out by suggesting the emotions of life. To evoke the emotions of life 
he must use representation. Thus a man will paint an execution, and, fearing 
to miss with his first barrel of significant form, will try to hit with his second 
by raising an emotion of fear or pity. But if in the artist an inclination to play 
upon the emotions of life is often the sign of a flickering inspiration, in the 
spectator a tendency to seek, behind form, the emotions of life is a sign of 
defective sensibility always. It means that his aesthetic emotions are weak or, 
at any rate, imperfect. Before a work of art people who feel little or no emotion 
for pure form find themselves at a loss. They are deaf men at a concert. They 
know that they are in the presence of something great, but they lack the power 
of apprehending it. They know that they ought to feel for it a tremendous 
emotion, but it happens that the particular kind of emotion it can raise is one 
that they can feel hardly or not at all. And so they read into the forms of the 
work those facts and ideas for which they are capable of feeling emotion, and 
feel for them the emotions that they can feel - the ordinary emotions of life. 



r 



116 The Legacy of Symbolism 

When confronted by a picture, instinctively they refer back its forms to the 
world from which they came. They treat created form as though it were imitated 
form, a picture as though it were a photograph. Instead of going out on the 
stream of art into a new world of aesthetic experience, they turn a sharp corner 
and come straight home to the world of human interests. For them the 
significance of a work of art depends on what they bring to it; no new thing 
is added to their lives, only the old material is stirred. A good work of visual 
art carries a person who is capable of appreciating it out of life into ecstasy: to 
use art as a means to the emotions of life is to use a telescope for reading the 
news. You will notice that people who cannot feel pure aesthetic emotions 
remember pictures by their subjects; whereas people who can, as often as not, 
have no idea what the subject of a picture is. They have never noticed the 
representative element, and so when they discuss pictures they talk about the 
shapes of forms and the relations and quantities of colours. Often they can 
tell by the quality of a single line whether or no a man is a good artist. They 
are concerned only with lines and colours, their relations and quantities 
and qualities; but from these they win an emotion more profound and far 
more sublime than any that can be given bv the description of facts and ideas. 

[...] 
Significant form stands charged with the power to provoke aesthetic emotion 

in anyone capable of feeling it. The ideas of men go buzz and die like gnats; 

men change their institutions and their customs as they change their coats; the 

intellectual triumphs of one age are the follies of another; only great art remains 

stable and unobscure. Great art remains stable and unobscure because the 

feelings that it awakens are independent of time and place, because its kingdom 

is not of this world. To those who have and hold a sense of the significance of 

form what does it matter whether the forms that move them were created in 

Paris the day before yesterday or in Babylon fifty centuries ago? The forms of 

art are inexhaustible; but all lead by the same road of aesthetic emotion to the 

same world of aesthetic ecstasy. 



16 Hermann Bahr (1863-1934) from Expressionism 

As one might expect from an account of Expressionism published in Munich, though 
Bahr broadens the field of reference of the term, his book shows the influence both of 
Worringer's ideas and of that concern for the spiritual functions of art which was 
associated with Der Blaue Reiter. It provides a vivid repository of themes and tendencies 
which were to remain implicit in much modern art theory and criticism for the next thirty 
years, to resurface in explicit form in the New York of the 1940s: recourse to sweeping 
anthropological generalization; belief in the superior philosophical wisdom of the East; 
disparagement of Impressionist painting for its supposed passivity as a form of repre- 
sentation; association of modernity with dehumanization; and consequent (neo-romantic) 
conviction that recovery of a form of 'presocial' state is the precondition for recovery 
of critical virtue and authenticity. Written in 1914, and published as Expressionismus, 
Munich, 1916. English translation by R. T. Gribble, London, 1920, from which the 
present extracts are taken. 



Ib Expression and the Primitive 117 

Without Precedent 

The various sayings and proclamations of Expressionism only tell us that what 
the Expressionist is looking for is without parallel in the past. A new form of 
Art is dawning. And he who beholds an Expressionist picture by Matisse or 
Picasso, by Pechstein or Kokoschka, by Kandinsky or Marc, or by Italian or 
Bohemian Futurists, agrees; he finds them quite unprecedented. The newest 
school of painting consists of small sects and groups that vituperate each other, 
yet one thing they all have in common. They agree only on this point, that 
they all turn away from Impressionism, turn even against it: hence I class all 
of them together under the name of Expressionists, although it is a name usually 
assumed only by one of the sects, while the others protest at being classed in 
the same category. Whenever Impressionism tries to simulate reality, striving 
for illusion, they all agree in despising this procedure. They also share in 
common the passionate denial of every demand that we make of a picture before 
we can accept it as a picture at all. Although we may not be able to understand 
a single one of their pictures, of one thing we may be certain, they all do 
violence to the sensible world. This is the true reason of the universal indig- 
nation they arouse; all that has hitherto been the aim of painting, since painting 
first began, is now denied, and something is striven for which has never yet 
been attempted. At least so the beholder is likely to think, and the Expressionist 
will fully agree with him. Only the beholder maintains that whatever nature 
does not sanction, but that on the contrary deliberately goes against nature, can 
never be true Art, while the Expressionist insists that just this is Art, is his Art. 
And if the beholder retorts vehemently that the painter should express nothing 
but what he sees, the Expressionists assure him that they too paint only what 
they see. And on this point there is a continual misunderstanding. Each of them 
when he speaks of 'seeing' means something totally different. What is meant 
by 'seeing'? 

Seeing 

The history of painting is nothing but the history of vision - or seeing. 
Technique changes only when the mode of seeing has changed; it only changes 
because the method of seeing has changed. It changes so as to keep pace with 
changes of vision as they occur. And the eye changes its method of seeing 
according to the relation man assumes towards the world. A man views the 
world according to his attitude towards it. [. . .] 
* * * 

Two influences work on each other, an outer one and one from within us; 
each at bottom equally unknown to us. Neither alone suffices. Experience is 
born from their co-operation. They differ for each individual according as his 
own share is stronger or weaker, the capacity of his eye more or less inde- 
pendent; according to the degree of his attention, the extent of his experience, 
the power of his thought, the range of his knowledge. As any one of these 
conditions changes, necessarily every appearance will change with it. A man is 



118 The Legacy of Symbolism 

usually unconscious of these various conditions. But it may happen at times 
that he feels them strongly, and then it may also happen that he wishes to 
change them. As soon as he realizes that his seeing is always the result of some 
external influence, as well as of his own inner influence, it depends on whether 
he trusts the outer world more - or himself. Every human relation finally 
depends on this: once he has arrived at the stage where he can differentiate 
between himself and the rest of the world, when he can say T and 'you 1 , when 
he can separate outer from inner, he has no alternative but that of flight from 
the world into himself, or from himself into the world - or a third choice is 
possible, that of halting on the boundary line between the two. These are the 
three attitudes man can assume towards the phenomena of appearance. 

When at the dawn of time man first awakened, he was startled by the world. 
To recover himself, to 'come to', he had to sever himself from nature; in his 
later memory this event is echoed and repeated in the impulse to break away 
from nature. He hates her; he fears her; she is stronger than he; he can only 
save himself from her by flight, or she will again seize and devour him. He 
escapes from her into himself. The fact of having the courage to separate from 
her, and to defy her, shows him that there must be a secret power in himself, 
and to this power he entrusts himself. From its depths he draws his own God 
and sets him up against nature. He requires a stronger power than himself, but 
stronger also than the world; enthroned above him, and above her, it can destroy 
him, but it can likewise protect him against her. Should his offering find favour, 
his God will banish the terrors of nature. And thus primeval man draws a magic 
circle of worship round himself and pricks it out with the signs of his God: 
Art begins, an attempt of man to break the grip of appearance by making his 
innermost' appear also; within the outer world, he has created another world 
which belongs to him and obeys him. If the former frightens him into mad 
flight, alarming and confusing all his senses - the eye, the ear, the groping 
hand, the moving foot - the latter pacifies and encourages him by its calm, by 
the rhythm and consonance of its rigid, unreal, and unceasing repetition of form. 
In primitive ornament change is conquered by rest, the appearance to the eye 
by the picture in the mind, the outer world by the inner man, and when the 
reality of nature perplexes and disturbs him because he can never fathom her 
depths, because she always extends further than he can reach, so that beyond the 
uttermost limit there stretches something beyond, and beyond this extends 
the threat of yet further vastness - Art frees him by drawing appearance from 
the depths and by flattening it out on a plane surface. Primeval man sees lines, 
circles, squares, and he sees them all flat, and he does so owing to the inner 
need of turning the threat of nature away from himself. His vision is in constant 
fear of being overpowered and so it is always on the defensive, it offers 
resistance, is ready to hit back. Every fresh outer stimulus alarms the inner 
perception, which is always armed and ready, never concedes entrance to nature, 
but out of the flux of experience he tears her bit by bit - banishing her from 
the depth to the surface - makes her unreal and human till her chaos has been 
conquered by his order. 



Ib Expression and the Primitive 119 

It is not only primeval man who shows us this determined reaction of 
repulsion to every stimulus experienced. We recognize this attitude again in one 
of the highest phases of human development, in the East. There too man, now 
mature and civilised, has overcome nature. Appearance has been seen through 
and recognized as illusion, and should the deceiving eye try to entice him into 
this folly, he is taught by knowledge to withstand. In the East all beholding is 
tempered by an element of comprehending pity, and wherever the wise man 
gazes, he sees only that which he knows: the eye takes in the outer stimulus, 
but only to unmask it instantly. All seeing, for him, is a looking away from 
nature. We, with our eyes, are still incapable even of imagining this state, for 
we still see everything, as far as the circle of our civilization reaches, with the 
eyes of the Greek. 

The Greeks had turned man about: he stood against nature, they turned him 
towards her: he hid from her, they taught him to confide himself to her, to go 
with her, to be received by her, to become one with her. It must have been a 
great moment. [ . . . ] 
* * * 

In fact, the Impressionist is the consummation of classic development. The 
Impressionist, in visualizing, endeavours as much as possible to rule out every 
inner response to the outer stimulus. Impressionism is an attempt to leave 
nothing to man but his retina. One is apt to say of Impressionists that they do 
not 'carry out' a picture; it were better to say, they do not 'carry out' 
visualization. The Impressionist leaves out man's participation in appearance, 
for fear of falsifying it. [. . .] 

Expressionism 

This is the vital point - that man should find himself again. Schiller asks: 'Can 
man have been destined, for any purpose whatever, to lose himself?' It is the 
inhuman attempt of our time to force this loss upon him against his own nature. 
We would turn him into a mere instrument; he has become the tool of his own 
work, and he has no more sense, since he serves the machine. It has stolen him 
away from his soul. And now the soul demands his return. This is the vital 
point. All that we experience is but the strenuous battle between the soul and 
the machine for the possession of man. We no longer live, we are lived; we 
have no freedom left, we may not decide for ourselves, we are finished, man is 
unsouled, nature is unmanned. A moment ago we boasted of being her lords 
and masters and now she has opened her wide jaws and swallowed us up. Unless 
a miracle happens! That is the vital point - whether a miracle can still rescue 
this soulless, sunken, buried humanity. Never yet has any period been so shaken 
by horror, by such a fear of death. Never has the world been so silent, silent 
as the grave. Never has man been more insignificant. Never has he felt so 
nervous. Never was happiness so unattainable and freedom so dead. Distress 
cries aloud; man cries out for his soul; this whole pregnant time is one great 
cry of anguish. Art too joins in, into the great darkness she too calls for help, 
she cries to the spirit: this is Expressionism. 



t 



120 The Legacy of Symbolism 

Never has any period found a clearer, a stronger mode of self-expression than 
did the period of bourgeois dominance in impressionistic Art. This bourgeois 
rule was incapable of producing original music or poetry; all the music or poetry 
of its day is invariably either a mere echoing of the past, or a presentiment of 
the future; but in Impressionistic painting it has made for itself such a perfect 
symbol of its nature, of its disorder, that perhaps some day when humanity is 
quite freed from its trammels and has attained the serene perspective of historic 
contemplation, it may be forgiven, because of these shining tokens. Impression- 
ism is the falling away of man from spirit. Impressionism is man lowered to 
the position of a gramophone record of the outer world. Impressionists have 
been taken to task for not 'carrying out' their pictures; they do not even carry 
out their 'seeing', for man of the bourgeois period never 'carries out', never 
fulfils life. He halts, breaks off midway in the process of seeing, midway in the 
process of life at the very point where man's participation in life begins. 
Half-way in the act of seeing these Impressionists stop, just where the eye, 
having been challenged, should make its reply: The ear is dumb, the mouth 
deaf/ says Goethe; 'but the eye both perceives and speaks.' The eye of the 
Impressionist only beholds, it does not speak; it hears the question, but makes 
no response. Instead of eyes, Impressionists have another set of ears, but no 
mouth, for a man of the bourgeois period is nothing but an ear, he listens to 
the world, but does not breathe upon it. He has no mouth, he is incapable of 
expressing himself, incapable of pronouncing judgment upon the world, of 
uttering the law of the spirit. The Expressionist, on the contrary, tears open 
the mouth of humanity; the time of its silence, the time of its listening is over 
- once more it seeks to give the spirit's reply. 

Expressionism is as yet but a gesture. It is not a question of this or that 
Expressionist, much less of any particular work of his. Nietzsche says: 'The 
first and foremost duty of Art should be to beautify life . . . Thereupon she 
must conceal or transmute all ugliness - and only after this gigantic task has 
been achieved can she turn to the special so-called Art of Art-production, which 
is but the appendage. A man who is conscious of possessing a superfluity of 
these beautifying and concealing and transmuting powers, will finally seek to 
disburden himself of this superabundance in works of Art; the same under 
special conditions applies to a whole nation. But at present we generally start 
at the wrong end of Art, we cling to her tail and reiterate the tag, that works 
of Art contain the whole of Art, and that by these we may repair and transform 
life . . . simpletons that we are!' Under this bourgeois rule the whole of man has 
become an appendage. Impressionism makes a splendid tail! The Expressionist, 
however, does not throw out a peacock's wheel, he does not consider the single 
production, but seeks to restore man to his rightful position; only we have 
outgone Nietzsche - or, rather, we have retraced our steps and gone further 
back beyond him and have arrived at Goethe: Art is no longer only to 'beautify' 
life for us and to 'conceal or transmute ugliness', but Art must bring Life, 
produce Life from within, must fulfil the function of Life as man's most proper 
deed and action. Goethe says, 'Painting sets before us that which a man could 
and should see, and which usually he does not see.' If Expressionism at the 



Ib Expression and the Primitive 121 

moment behaves in an ungainly, violent manner, its excuse lies in the prevailing 
conditions it finds. These really are almost the conditions of crude and primitive 
humanity. People little know how near the truth they are when they jeer at 
these pictures and say they might be painted by savages. The bourgeois rule 
has turned us into savages. Barbarians, other than those feared by Rodbertus, 
threaten; we ourselves have to become barbarians to save the future of humanity 
from mankind as it now is. As primitive man, driven by fear of nature, sought 
refuge within himself, so we too have to adopt flight from a 'civilization' which 
is out to devour our souls. The Savage discovered in himself the courage to 
become greater than the threat of nature, and in honour of this mysterious inner 
redeeming power of his, which, through all the alarms and terrors of storm and 
of ravening beasts and of unknown dangers, never deserted him, never let him 
give in - in honour of this he drew a circle of guardian signs around him, signs 
of defiance against the threat of nature, obstinate signs of demarcation to protect 
his possessions against the intrusion of nature and to safeguard his belief in 
spirit. So, brought very near the edge of destruction by 'civilization', we discover 
in ourselves powers which cannot be destroyed. With the fear of death upon 
us, we muster these and use them as spells against 'civilization'. Expressionism 
is the symbol of the unknown in us in which we confide, hoping that it will 
save us. It is the token of the imprisoned spirit that endeavours to break out 
of the dungeon - a tocsin of alarm given out by all panic-stricken souls. This 
is what Expressionism is. 



r 

I Part II 

The Idea of the 
Modern World 



I 



II 

Introduction 



The first decade of the twentieth century had witnessed an attempt to synthesize 
elements from a range of late-nineteenth-century sources into a new art: an art 
that was of the new century yet could stand alongside the achievements of the 
classical tradition. One of the main supports of this new art had been the concept 
of 'expression'. Expression took on a variety of guises, but the one thing it 
needed was a notion of the 'self of the artist, which could thus be expressed. 
In turn this Self had to have the attributes of authenticity. These were 
characteristically sought in hitherto marginalized and neglected places - from 
which the avant-garde artists drew a kind of 'natural' force. It remains a central 
paradox of the new art that it sought its authenticity in a remote Nature, but 
that this repeated incantation to Nature was made under urban circumstances. 
Nature cults, peasant decorations, primitive fetishes and so on signified what 
they did to people who lived in cities. It cannot be overstressed that the 
ideologies of the Universal, of transhistorical forms and transcultural sensi- 
bilities, of the directly expressive and the authentic, meant what they did to a 
relatively small group of urban sophisticates. The artists of the avant-garde were 
able to deploy these notions, and the artefacts they both drew r upon and issued 
in, to justify their own critical distance from the values and priorities of their 
own industrialized, urbanized societies. The adequacy of art however, is predi- 
cated upon its avoidance of escapism. The expressive devices had to match the 
real experience. And as the passage into the new century deepened, so the 
modern condition bore down upon the avant-garde. 

The impact of the modern condition was being felt across Europe. So too 
the avant-garde had become thoroughly internationalized by the time world war 
broke out. Undoubtedly Paris remained pre-eminent, and the development of 
Cubism ensured that this remained the case. None the less an avant-garde in 
the visual arts developed also in the German-speaking world in centres such as 
Berlin, Munich, Dresden and Vienna. Here it was possessed of a characteristic 
inflection towards the expressive and subjective, linked in turn to concerns 
within a German philosophical and cultural tradition, which differentiated it 
from the more rationalist and classicizing tendencies that seem never to have 
been far below the surface of French art. A third emphasis is to be found in 
those urban centres which came relatively late to modernization in Italy and 



126 The Idea of the Modern World 

Russia, marked by an attempt to embrace, in art, the distinctive rhythms of the 
modern as it shot through those hitherto relatively backward societies. Sche- 
matically, then, we may want to say that in the decade before the First World 
War, Cubism, Expressionism and Futurism mark different facets of a European 
avant-garde's reception of the modern into an established artistic tradition whose 
example was predominantly French. Against the technical constraints obtaining 
within that tradition - a preoccupation with surface, and with the consequences 
of loosening colour and structure from depiction - there was room for the 
culturally relative experience to make its distinctive mark. In a sense, that is 
the underlying point: that the modern was not yet 'total' and as such could be 
measured, and its meaning assessed, against that which it was not. Across 
Europe, the sharply felt experience of the modern could still be silhouetted 
against a sense of tradition, of values rooted in the relatively unchanging 
conditions of a life lived by the soil and the seasons. 

Convention distinguishes three related moments in the dynamic of the mod- 
ern: modernization, modernity and Modernism. The first term denotes those 
processes of scientific and technological advance which caused the world to 
manifest itself differently than it had hitherto. In particular modernization refers 
to the growing impact of the machine, and not least in this period of the internal 
combustion engine, with all that its development implied in terms of the 
engineering and chemical industries. It is hard retrospectively to capture the 
extent of the transformation that was taking place. In developing societies in 
Europe at the turn into the twentieth century the new was ousting the old at 
a pace for which there was no historical precedent. Modernity refers to the 
social and cultural condition of these objective changes: the character of life 
under changed circumstances. Modernity was a form of experience, an 
awareness of change and of adaptation to change. But it was also a form of 
effect on the person: a character these changes and adaptations gave one. It 
was, so to speak, both a social and an inner experience. The condition of 
modernity exists in a shifting, symbiotic relationship with Modernism: the 
deliberate reflection upon and distillation of - in a word, the representation 
of - that inchoate experience of the new. The boundaries between these 
concepts are not easy to draw. There is a sense in which experience cannot 
be grasped until it is represented; though at the extreme it would be absurd 
to say that the modern condition could not be experienced without a modern 
art to read the experience against. 

The response to the modern condition seems to have been experienced in two 
linked but ostensibly opposed registers. On the one hand, a profound pessimism 
at the growth of populations and their concentration in large cities was fuelled 
by the apparently increasing control of human life by the machine. For all that 
was being gained, there was a sense that life was losing a depth, a dimension 
of freedom, and that human beings were becoming imprisoned in what the 
German sociologist Max Weber saw as the iron cage' of modernity (see IlAl-2). 
Modernization was a Europe-wide phenomenon, and change was often experi- 
enced most sharply at its fringes, where the pace of that change had been at 
first delayed but was now dramatically accelerated by the need to catch up. It 






II Introduction 127 

is as a change of this sort that we should hear the 'distant thunder' of the 
Russian poet Alexander Blok (IIa5). 

On the other hand, these same changes which brought about a mix of 
alienation and apocalypse in some, produced the opposite response in others: 
an almost hysterical exhilaration. The most emphatic reaction of this kind came 
from the Italian poet Marinetti, writing in the first instance from the European 
fringe. Like Blok, Marinetti was a successful Symbolist poet. Unlike him, 
however, Marinetti broke decisely with the legacy of Symbolism in order to 
formulate a new response to the age (II A6). In the parable recounted in his 
founding Manifesto, he and his Symbolist friends descend from the aestheticized 
decadence of the studio to the street, where they commandeer automobiles and 
career off through the night. Marinetti's car crashes, and he is pulled by workers 
from a factory's drainage ditch, but not before its evil waters have acted upon 
him like a baptism. Through the motor car and the factory, speed and 
machinery, Marinetti has been granted a compelling vision of the modern, and 
the task of the artist is simultaneously made plain. In the years immediately 
before the First World War the impulse captured by Marinetti in the prophetic 
term 'Futurism' was felt across the continent, from London to Moscow (see 
texts IIA7, 8, 9, 11 and 12). 

Marinetti was not the only source for this attempt to focus upon dynamism 
and change as the marks of the modern. Until the invention of the steam-engine, 
no one had travelled quicker than the fastest horse could run. Now people were 
racing motor cars across continents and taking to the air. As brute facts these 
must have been evident to all. But there were also philosophical attempts to 
map human consciousness in terms of flux, change and sensation. In a paradox- 
ical move, the triumphs of technology and science fostered an idealist response 
to their significance. The principal voice of this response was Henri Bergson's 
(IIA4). The apparent pertinence of his ideas to common experience resulted in 
his suffering an uncommon fate for a philosopher: he became famous, and was 
much read - not least by the Futurist Umberto Boccioni (IIA7). 

However different they may have been, the variant responses of depression 
and exhilaration are two sides of the same coin. At bottom both are responses 
to the effects of modernization. There is a third response, however, which is 
positioned adjacent to these two. Its principal concern is to seek the cause of 
the modern world's being as it is. Although during this period before the First 
World War its bearing on the development of art is slight, in the period which 
followed it was to become a dominant motif. Viewed from this third position, 
modernization is not, fundamentally, a technological fact, despite the visibility 
of machinery and architecture. It is a social fact, and is marked by the production 
of new social relations - relations between people, and more particularly between 
classes of people; not just relations between people and things. In the last resort 
We are talking about capitalist modernization. By this token the twin responses 
of depression and exhilaration remain within the register of terms in which, so 
to speak, the culture thought of itself. They are part, that is to say, of the 
ideology of modernization: the acute and contradictory forms of bourgeois 
response to bourgeois society. But a wholesale challenge to that social order was 



128 The Idea of the Modern World 

mounted in the name of the class which the bourgeoisie both feared and needed: 
which it simultaneously attempted to draw into the fold through ideologies of 
a shared nation, race or culture, yet largely excluded from the material (and 
indeed spiritual) wealth generated by the capitalist mode of production. This 
class was the working class, and its programme - or at least the programme 
advanced in its name - was socialism. 

If we have seen from the one side a series of variant demands that art express 
modernity, within the socialist tradition there was a mounting demand that art 
be committed to the struggle to change that modernity. Building on Marx's 
comment that whereas philosophers had hitherto merely sought to understand 
the world intellectually the point was to change it practically, many voices on 
the Left articulated a role for art as the servant of an emancipatory social 
movement whose main force lay in the sphere of politics. Here then are the 
seeds of a century-long conflict (Ha3). 

This conflict was heightened by the specific nature of the turn taken by 
avant-garde art in the years before the war. Expressionism and Futurism are 
both evidently forms of response to the circumstances of urban modernity; 
negative and positive undoubtedly, but the modern world and its pressures 
remain legible in the work of artists as diverse as Kirchner and Boccioni. With 
Cubism, however, the situation is different. Particularly in its 'analytic' phase, 
Cubism is an hermetic art. The still life and the single portrait figure - the 
characteristic Cubist subject matter - give few clues to the storm of modernity 
blowing outside the studio. This apparent disregard is only emphasized by the 
submergence of even these subjects beneath a surface of shifting planes which 
assert themselves as the picture's primary object of attention. By a strange 
inversion, it seems as if the modern picture, rather than depicting the machines 
and buildings which made up the modern world, had internalized its modernity. 
The picture, it was easy to think, had become a thing in itself. Strictly speaking, 
it was not: it remained a signifier. But its signification was to remain largely 
unintelligible to those who failed to grasp the premises from which the new 
pictorial language was derived. 

Notwithstanding this difficulty, Cubism rapidly established itself as the 
paradigm for subsequent avant-garde art. Cubism's achievement, by virtue of 
its unprecedented technical innovation, was that it succeeded in imbuing the 
form of the art with modernity. After that, it mattered less what particular 
subject an artist addressed. Some of the potency of this shift in technical 
priorities arises in regard to its consistency with a wider impulse which is 
traceable across many disciplines. It seems that the characteristic inflection of 
this modern impulse has been a fixing upon the materiality, the opacity, of the 
medium through which the world is represented. This marks a crucial change. 
For once this emphasis upon the means of representation is achieved, then 
whenever those means remain unchanged in a changing world, art will in its 
turn remain archaic - and as such be inadequate to the task of representing the 
modern - whatever subjects it chooses to depict. The perception that how one 
achieves the representation stands logically prior to what it represents, implies 
that the means of art require transformation in ways which parallel the changes 



II Introduction 129 

modernization itself had wrought upon the world at large (see section IlB 
passim). 

Cubism's technical innovations were rapidly assimilated by avant-garde artists. 
However, the question as to what Cubism meant, how it was to be thought of 
and understood, remained a focus for conflict. The autonomous decoration of 
a surface; penetration below surface appearance to the constants of 'true' reality; 
a modern Realism of 'conception', transforming the terms, but none the less 
retaining the critical interest, of a tradition derived from Courbet; a Kantian 
transcendental idealism in which the picture could achieve what language could 
not, namely representation of the ding an stch; a Nietzschean imposition of a 
new beauty, moulding the masses to the artist's own Truth; a Bergsonian 
epistemology of flux. Each of these was canvassed within five years of the 
emergence of a recognizably new style around 1910 (see IlBl-10 passim). 

Although no one account established itself definitively, some, such as 
Kahnweiler's Kantian approach (IlBlO), appeared to be more serviceable than 
others. The reasons for this are complex and undoubtedly relate to the wider 
social circumstances in which avant-garde art came to function, both as a 
relatively autonomous specialized practice and as a kind of luxury commodity. 
Whatever the precise reasons may be, their cumulative effect was to prise apart 
the two aspects of Cubism which in retrospect seem most central to its critical 
force: its continued referentiality and its preoccupation with the autonomous 
picture surface. This had the effect of driving a wedge between a concern for 
art's realism in respect of wider social forms, and its own reality as a signifying 
practice. The gulf thus opened, and sustained, it must be said, by the operation 
of more powerful ideological and political investments as the century has gone 
on, has rarely been bridged since. 

Here then is set up a tension, a tension between poles which artists have 
sometimes striven to reconcile, while other artists at other times have hardened 
them into mutually exclusive alternatives. On the one side there is the impulse 
to an art whose first duty is to decode the modern world and perhaps even to 
participate in changing it. On the other is that art whose principal response to 
the modern condition has been the conclusion that art must transform itself. 
This problem of the relation of an 'autonomous' art to wider social change has 
remained constitutive of all ambitious art in the modern period. In this second 
section, debates over Cubism and the conditions of modernity can be seen both 
to replay aspects of the dialectic noted in the previous chapter between the 
theorists of 'modern life', Naturalism and Symbolism, and to anticipate the 
conflict over Modernism and Realism which has played so prominent a role 
s mce. In that sense these years, pre-eminently the years of Cubism, mark a 
turning-point, a hinge, as it were, between the modern art of the nineteenth 
Century and what was to become the condition of modern art in the twentieth. 



IlA 

Modernity 



1 Georg Simmel (1858-1918) 'The Metropolis and 
Mental Life' 

Simmel, one of the founders of modern sociology, worked for most of his life at the 
University of Berlin. His writings ranged over philosophy, history and psychology, as 
well as sociology. Here he is particularly concerned with the effects of the impersonality 
and regimentation of the modern city on individual subjectivity. Originally published as 
Die Grossstadte und das Geistesleben', pp. 185-206 in Die Grossstadt: Vortrage und 
Aufsatze zur Stadteaustellung Jahrbuch der Gehe-Stiftung zu Dresden 9, Winter 1902- 
3. The present extract is taken from the translation in Kurt H. Wolff (ed), The Sociology 
of Georg Simmel, Glencoe, 1950. 

The deepest problems of modern life derive from the claim of the individual 
to preserve the autonomy and individuality of his existence in the face of 
overwhelming social forces, of historical heritage, of external culture, and of the 
technique of life. The fight with nature which primitive man has to wage for 
his bodily existence attains in this modern form its latest transformation. The 
eighteenth century called upon man to free himself of all the historical bonds 
in the state and in religion, in morals and in economics. Man's nature, originally 
good and common to all, should develop unhampered. In addition to more 
liberty, the nineteenth century demanded the functional specialization of man 
and his work; this specialization makes one individual incomparable to another, 
and each of them indispensable to the highest possible extent. However, this 
specialization makes each man the more directly dependent upon the supplemen- 
tary activities of all others. Nietzsche sees the full development of the individual 
conditioned by the most ruthless struggle of individuals; socialism believes in 
the suppression of all competition for the same reason. Be that as it may, in 
all these positions the same basic motive is at work: the person resists to being 
leveled down and worn out by a social-technological mechanism. An inquiry 
into the inner meaning of specifically modern life and its products, into the 
soul of the cultural body, so to speak, must seek to solve the equation which 
structures like the metropolis set up between the individual and the super- 
individual contents of life. Such an inquiry must answer the question of how 
the personality accommodates itself in the adjustments to external forces. 



Ha Modernity 131 

The psychological basis of the metropolitan type of individuality consists in 
the intensification of nervous stimulation which results from the swift and unin- 
terrupted change of outer and inner stimuli. Man is a differentiating creature. 
His mind is stimulated by the difference between a momentary impression and 
the one which preceded it. Lasting impressions, impressions which differ only 
slightly from one another, impressions which take a regular and habitual course 
and show regular and habitual contrasts - all these use up, so to speak, less 
consciousness than does the rapid crowding of changing images, the sharp 
discontinuity in the grasp of a single glance, and the unexpectedness of 
onrushing impressions. These are the psychological conditions which the me- 
tropolis creates. With each crossing of the street, with the tempo and multiplicity 
of economic, occupational and social life, the city sets up a deep contrast with 
small town and rural life with reference to the sensory foundations of psychic 
life. The metropolis exacts from man as a discriminating creature a different 
amount of consciousness than does rural life. Here the rhythm of life and sensory 
mental imagery flows more slowly, more habitually, and more evenly. Precisely 
in this connection the sophisticated character of metropolitan psychic life 
becomes understandable - as over against small town life which rests more upon 
deeply felt and emotional relationships. [. . .] 

[ . . . ] In the sphere of the economic psychology of the small group it is of 
importance that under primitive conditions production serves the customer who 
orders the good, so that the producer and the consumer are acquainted. The 
modern metropolis, however, is supplied almost entirely by production for 
the market, that is, for entirely unknown purchasers who never personally enter 
the producer's actual field of vision. Through this anonymity the interests of 
each party acquire an unmerciful matter-of-factness; and the intellectually 
calculating economic egoisms of both parties need not fear any deflection because 
of the imponderables of personal relationships. [. . .] 

In certain seemingly insignificant traits, which lie upon the surface of life, 
the same psychic currents characteristically unite. Modern mind has become 
more and more calculating. The calculative exactness of practical life which the 
money economy has brought about corresponds to the ideal of natural science: 
to transform the world into an arithmetic problem, to fix every part of the 
world by mathematical formulas. [. . .] The technique of metropolitan life is 
unimaginable without the most punctual integration of all activities and mutual 
relations into a stable and impersonal time schedule. Here again the general 
conclusions of this entire task of reflection become obvious, namely, that 
from each point on the surface of existence - however closely attached to the 
surface alone - one may drop a sounding into the depth of the psyche so that 
all the most banal externalities of life finally are connected with the ultimate 
decisions concerning the meaning and style of life. Punctuality, calculability, 
exactness are forced upon life by the complexity and extension of metro- 
politan existence and are not only most intimately connected with its money 
economy and intellectualistic character. These traits must also color the con- 
tents of life and favor the exclusion of those irrational, instinctive, sovereign 
traits and impulses which aim at determining the mode of life from within, 



132 The Idea of the Modern World 

instead of receiving the general and precisely schematized form of life from 
without [ . . . ] 

The same factors which have thus coalesced into the exactness and minute 
precision of the form of life have coalesced into a structure of the highest 
impersonality; on the other hand, they have promoted a highly personal sub- 
jectivity. There is perhaps no psychic phenomenon which has been so uncon- 
ditionally reserved to the metropolis as has the blase attitude. The blase attitude 
results first from the rapidly changing and closely compressed contrasting 
stimulations of the nerves. From this, the enhancement of metropolitan intel- 
lectuality, also, seems originally to stem. Therefore, stupid people who are not 
intellectually alive in the first place usually are not exactly blase. A life in 
boundless pursuit of pleasure makes one blase because it agitates the nerves to 
their strongest reactivity for such a long time that thev finally cease to react at 
all. [...] 

This physiological source of the metropolitan blase attitude is joined by 
another source which flows from the money economy. The essence of the blase 
attitude consists in the blunting of discrimination. This does not mean that the 
objects are not perceived, as is the case with the half-wit, but rather that the 
meaning and differing values of things, and thereby the things themselves, are 
experienced as insubstantial. They appear to the blase person in an evenly flat 
and gray tone; no one object deserves preference over any other. This mood is 
the faithful subjective reflection of the completely internalized money economy. 

Whereas the subject of this form of existence has to come to terms with it 
entirely for himself, his self-preservation in the face of the large city demands 
from him a no less negative behavior of a social nature. This mental attitude 
of metropolitans toward one another we may designate, from a formal point of 
view, as reserve. If so many inner reactions were responses to the continuous 
external contacts with innumerable people as are those in the small town, where 
one knows almost everybody one meets and where one has a positive relation 
to almost everyone, one would be completely atomized internally and come to 
an unimaginable psychic state. Partly this psychological fact, partly the right to 
distrust which men have in the face of the touch-and-go elements of metropoli- 
tan life, necessitates our reserve. As a result of this reserve we frequently do 
not even know by sight those who have been our neighbors for years. And it 
is this reserve which in the eyes of the small-town people makes us appear to 
be cold and heartless. Indeed, if I do not deceive myself, the inner aspect of 
this outer reserve is not only indifference but, more often than we are aware, 
it is a slight aversion, a mutual strangeness and repulsion, which will break into 
hatred and fight at the moment of a closer contact, however caused. The whole 
inner organization of such an extensive communicative life rests upon an 
extremely varied hierarchy of sympathies, indifferences, and aversions of the 
briefest as well as of the most permanent nature. The sphere of indifference in 
this hierarchy is not as large as might appear on the surface. Our psychic activity 
still responds to almost every impression of somebody else with a somewhat 
distinct feeling. The unconscious, fluid and changing character of this impress- 



11a Modernity 133 

j0ii seems to result in a state of indifference. Actually this indifference would 
be just as unnatural as the diffusion of indiscriminate mutual suggestion would 
j>e unbearable. From both these typical dangers of the metropolis, indifference 
a nd indiscriminate suggestibility, antipathy protects us. A latent antipathy and 
the preparatory stage of practical antagonism effect the distances and aversions 
without which this mode of life could not at all be led. The extent and the 
jflixture of this style of life, the rhythm of its emergence and disappearance, 
the forms in which it is satisfied - all these, with the unifying motives in the 
narrower sense, form the inseparable whole of the metropolitan style of life. 
What appears in the metropolitan style of life directly as dissociation is in reality 
only one of its elemental forms of socialization. 

This reserve with its overtone of hidden aversion appears in turn as the form 
or the cloak of a more general mental phenomenon of the metropolis: it grants 
to the individual a kind and an amount of personal freedom which has no 
analogy whatsoever under other conditions. [ . . . ] 

[. . .] Today metropolitan man is 'free' in a spiritualized and refined sense, 
in contrast to the pettiness and prejudices which hem in the small-town man. 
For the reciprocal reserve and indifference and the intellectual life conditions 
of large circles are never felt more strongly by the individual in their impact 
upon his independence than in the thickest crowd of the big city. This is because 
the bodily proximity and narrowness of space makes the mental distance only 
the more visible. It is obviously only the obverse of this freedom if, under 
certain circumstances, one nowhere feels as lonely and lost as in the metropolitan 
crowd. For here as elsewhere it is by no means necessary that the freedom of 
man be reflected in his emotional life as comfort. 

It is not only the immediate size of the area and the number of persons which, 
because of the universal historical correlation between the enlargement of the 
circle and the personal inner and outer freedom, has made the metropolis the 
locale of freedom. It is rather in transcending this visible expanse that any given 
city becomes the seat of cosmopolitanism. The horizon of the city expands in 
a manner comparable to the way in which wealth develops; a certain amount 
of property increases in a quasi-automatical way in ever more rapid progression. 
As soon as a certain limit has been passed, the economic, personal, and 
intellectual relations of the citizenry, the sphere of intellectual predominance of 
the city over its hinterland, grow r as in geometrical progression. Every gain in 
dynamic extension becomes a step, not for an equal, but for a new and larger 
extension. From every thread spinning out of the city, ever new threads grow 
as if by themselves, just as within the city the unearned increment of ground 
rent, through the mere increase in communication, brings the owner automat- 
ically increasing profits. At this point, the quantitative aspect of life is trans- 
formed directly into qualitative traits of character. [. . .] 

[. . .] In the measure of its expansion, the city offers more and more the 
decisive conditions of the division of labor. It offers a circle which through its 
size can absorb a highly diverse variety of services. At the same time, the 
concentration of individuals and their struggle for customers compel the indi- 
vidual to specialize in a function from which he cannot be readily displaced by 



134 The Idea of the Modern World 

another. It is decisive that city life has transformed the struggle with nature for 
livelihood into an inter-human struggle for gain, which here is not granted by 
nature but by other men. For specialization does not flow only from the 
competition for gain but also from the underlying fact that the seller must 
always seek to call forth new and differentiated needs of the lured customer. 
In order to find a source of income which is not yet exhausted, and to find a 
function which cannot readily be displaced, it is necessary to specialize in one's 
services. This process promotes differentiation, refinement, and the enrichment 
of the public's needs, which obviously must lead to growing personal differences 
within this public. 

All this forms the transition to the individualization of mental and psychic 
traits which the city occasions in proportion to its size. [. . .] 

The most profound reason, however, why the metropolis conduces to the urge 
for the most individual personal existence - no matter whether justified and 
successful - appears to me to be the following: the development of modern 
culture is characterized by the preponderance of what one may call the 'objective 
spirit' over the 'subjective spirit.' This is to say, in language as well as in law, 
in the technique of production as well as in art, in science as well as in the 
objects of the domestic environment, there is embodied a sum of spirit. The 
individual in his intellectual development follows the growth of this spirit very 
imperfectly and at an ever increasing distance. If, for instance, we view the 
immense culture which for the last hundred years has been embodied in things 
and in knowledge, in institutions and in comforts, and if we compare all this 
with the cultural progress of the individual during the same period - at least 
in high status groups - a frightful disproportion in growth between the two 
becomes evident. Indeed, at some points we notice a retrogression in the culture 
of the individual with reference to spirituality, delicacy, and idealism. This 
discrepancy results essentially from the growing division of labor. For the 
division of labor demands from the individual an ever more one-sided accom- 
plishment, and the greatest advance in a one-sided pursuit only too frequently 
means dearth to the personality of the individual. In any case, he can cope less 
and less with the overgrowth of objective culture. The individual is reduced to 
a negligible quantity, perhaps less in his consciousness than in his practice and 
in the totality of his obscure emotional states that are derived from this practice. 
The individual has become a mere cog in an enormous organization of things 
and powers which tear from his hands all progress, spirituality, and value in 
order to transform them from their subjective form into the form of a purely 
objective life. It needs merely to be pointed out that the metropolis is the 
genuine arena of this culture which outgrows all personal life. Here in buildings 
and educational institutions, in the wonders and comforts of space-conquering 
technology, in the formations of community life, and in the visible institutions 
of the state, is offered such an overwhelming fullness of crystallized and 
impersonalized spirit that the personality, so to speak, cannot maintain itself 
under its impact. On the one hand, life is made infinitely easy for the personality 
in that stimulations, interests, uses of time and consciousness are offered to it 
from all sides. They carry the person as if in a stream, and one needs hardly 



Ha Modernity 135 

to swim for oneself. On the other hand, however, life is composed more and 
more of these impersonal contents and offerings which tend to displace the 
genuine personal colorations and incomparabilities. This results in the individ- 
ual's summoning the utmost in uniqueness and particular ization, in order to 
preserve his most personal core. He has to exaggerate this personal element in 
order to remain audible even to himself. The atrophy of individual culture 
through the hypertrophy of objective culture is one reason for the bitter hatred 
which the preachers of the most extreme individualism, above all Nietzsche, 
harbor against the metropolis. But it is, indeed, also a reason why these preachers 
are so passionately loved in the metropolis and why they appear to the 
metropolitan man as the prophets and saviors of his most unsatisfied yearnings. 
* * * 



2 Max Weber (1864-1920) 'Asceticism and the Spirit 
of Capitalism' 

from The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Weber's pioneering study 
examined the effects of an ideological formation (protestant religion) on the constitution 
.of an economic order (modern capitalism). The present text addresses the constraining 
Effects on modern culture of the heritage of puritanism, striking a profoundly pessimistic 
f note in its appraisal of modernity. Originally published in the Archiv fur Soziaiwissen- 
schaft und Sozialpolitik, XX and XXI, 1904-5. First English translation by the American 
Sociologist Talcott Parsons, London and New York, 1930, from which the present 
extract is taken. 

'"h 
One of the fundamental elements of the spirit of modern capitalism, and not 
only of that but of all modern culture: rational conduct on the basis of the idea 
of the calling, was born . . . from the spirit of Christian asceticism. [. . .] The 
idea that modern labour has an ascetic character is of course not new. Limitation 
to specialized work, with a renunciation of the Faustian universality of man 
which it involves, is a condition of any valuable work in the modern world; 
hence deeds and renunciation inevitably condition each other today. This 
fundamentally ascetic trait of middle-class life, if it attempts to be a way of life 
at all, and not simply the absence of any, was what Goethe wanted to teach, at 
the height of his wisdom, in the Wanderjahren, and in the end which he gave 
to the life of his Faust. For him the realization meant a renunciation, a departure 
from an age of full and beautiful humanity, which can no more be repeated in 
the course of our cultural development than can the flower of the Athenian 
Culture of antiquity. 

The Puritan wanted to work in a calling; we are forced to do so. For when 
asceticism was carried out of monastic cells into everyday life, and began to 
dominate worldly morality, it did its part in building the tremendous cosmos 
of the modern economic order. This order is now bound to the technical and 
economic conditions of machine production which to-day determine the lives 
of all the individuals who are born into this mechanism, not only those directly 



136 The Idea of the Modern World 

concerned with economic acquisition, with irresistible force. Perhaps it will so 
determine them until the last ton of fossilized coal is burnt. In Baxter's view 
the care for external goods should only lie on the shoulders of the 'saint like a 
light cloak, which can be thrown aside at any moment'. But fate decreed that 
the cloak should become an iron cage. 

Since asceticism undertook to remodel the world and to work out its ideals 
in the world, material goods have gained an increasing and finally an inexorable 
power over the lives of men as at no previous period in history. To-day the 
spirit of religious asceticism - whether finally, who knows? - has escaped from 
the cage. But victorious capitalism, since it rests on mechanical foundations, 
needs its support no longer. The rosy blush of its laughing heir, the Enlight- 
enment, seems also to be irretrievably fading, and the idea of duty in one's 
calling prowls about in our lives like the ghost of dead religious beliefs. Where 
the fulfilment of the calling cannot directly be related to the highest spiritual 
and cultural values, or when, on the other hand, it need not be felt simply as 
economic compulsion, the individual generally abandons the attempt to justify 
it at all. In the field of its highest development, in the United States, the pursuit 
of wealth, stripped of its religious and ethical meaning, tends to become 
associated with purely mundane passions, which often actually give it the 
character of sport. 

No one knows who will live in this cage in the future, or whether at the end 
of this tremendous development entirely new prophets will arise, or there will 
be a great rebirth of old ideas and ideals, or, if neither, mechanized petrification, 
embellished with a sort of convulsive self-importance. For of the last stage of 
this cultural development, it might well be truly said: 'Specialists without spirit, 
sensualists without heart; this nullity imagines that it has attained a level of 
civilization never before achieved.' 



3 Vladimir Ilyich Lenin (1870-1924) Tarty 
Organization and Party Literature' 

In the changed circumstances after the Russian revolution of 1905 Lenin addressed 
the issue of the autonomy of art and literature, insisting instead on its implication in 
modern life in the class struggle between bourgeoisie and proletariat. Although he is 
speaking in the first instance solely about 'party' literature, hostile critics have seen the 
argument as paving the way for totalitarian control of the arts. Frequently reprinted, 
the essay was originally published in Novaya Zhizn, no. 12, Moscow, 13 November 
1905. The present translation is taken from Lenin on Literature and Art, Moscow, 1967. 

The new conditions for Social-Democratic work in Russia which have arisen 
since the October Revolution have brought the question of party literature 
to the fore. The distinction between the illegal and the legal press, that melan- 
choly heritage of the epoch of feudal, autocratic Russia, is beginning to 
disappear. [. . .] 



IIa Modernity 137 

So long as there was a distinction between the illegal and the legal press, the 
question of the party and non-party press was decided extremely simply and in 
an extremely false and abnormal way. The entire illegal press was a party press, 
being published by organizations and run by groups which in one way or another 
^ere linked with groups of practical party workers. The entire legal press was 
non-party - since parties were banned - but it 'gravitated' towards one party 
ar another. Unnatural alliances, strange 'bed-fellows' and false cover-devices 
w ere inevitable. The forced reserve of those who wished to express party views 
merged with the immature thinking or mental cowardice of those who had not 
risen to these views and who were not, in effect, party people. 

An accursed period of Aesopian language, literary bondage, slavish speech, 
and ideological serfdom! The proletariat has put an end to this foul atmosphere 
which stifled everything living and fresh in Russia. But so far the proletariat 
has won only half freedom for Russia. 

The revolution is not yet completed. While tsarism is no longer strong enough 
to defeat the revolution, the revolution is not yet strong enough to defeat tsarism. 
And we are living in times when everywhere and in everything there operates 
this unnatural combination of open, forthright, direct and consistent party spirit 
with an underground, covert, 'diplomatic' and dodgy 'legality'. This unnatural 
combination makes itself felt even in our newspaper . . . 

Be that as it may, the half-way revolution compels all of us to set to work 
at once organizing the whole thing on new lines. Today literature, even that 
^published 'legally', can be nine-tenths party literature. It must become party 
literature. In contradistinction to bourgeois customs, to the profitmaking, com- 
linercialized bourgeois press, to bourgeois literary careerism and individualism, 
'aristocratic anarchism' and drive for profit, the socialist proletariat must put 
forward the principle of party literature, must develop this principle and put it 
into practice as fully and completely as possible. 

What is this principle of party literature? It is not simply that, for the socialist 
proletariat, literature cannot be a means of enriching individuals or groups; it 
cannot, in fact, be an individual undertaking, independent of the common cause 
of the proletariat. Down with non-partisan writers! Down with literary super- 
men! Literature must become part of the common cause of the proletariat, 'a 
cog and a screw' of one single great Social-Democratic mechanism set in motion 
by the entire politically-conscious vanguard of the entire working class. Lit- 
erature must become a component of organized, planned and integrated Social- 
Democratic Party work. 

'Ail comparisons are lame,' says a German proverb. So is my comparison of 
Hterature with a cog, of a living movement with a mechanism. And I daresay 
there will even be hysterical intellectuals to raise a howl about such a compari- 
son, which degrades, deadens, 'bureaucratizes' the free battle of ideas, freedom 
of criticism, freedom of literary creation, etc., etc. Such outcries, in point of 
fact, would be nothing more than an expression of bourgeois-intellectual indi- 
vidualism. There is no question that literature is least of all subject to mechanical 
adjustment or levelling, to the rule of the majority over the minority. There is 
no question, either, that in this field greater scope must undoubtedly be allowed 



138 The Idea of the Modern World 

for personal initiative, individual inclination, thought and fantasy, form and 
content. All this is undeniable; but all this simply shows that the literary side 
of the proletarian party cause cannot be mechanically identified with its other 
sides. This, however, does not in the least refute the proposition, alien and 
strange to the bourgeoisie and bourgeois democracy, that literature must by all 
means and necessarily become an element of Social-Democratic Party work, 
inseparably bound up with the other elements. Newspapers must become the 
organs of the various party organizations, and their writers must by all means 
become members of these organizations. Publishing and distributing centres, 
bookshops and reading-rooms, libraries and similar establishments - must all be 
under Party control. The organized socialist proletariat must keep an eye on all 
this work, supervise it in its entirety, and, from beginning to end, without any 
exception, infuse into it the life-stream of the living proletarian cause, thereby 
cutting the ground from under the old, semi-Oblomov, semi-shopkeeper Russian 
principle: the writer does the writing, the reader does the reading. 

We are not suggesting, of course, that this transformation of literary work, 
which has been defiled by the Asiatic censorship and the European bourgeoisie, 
can be accomplished all at once. Far be it from us to advocate any kind of 
standardized system, or a solution by means of a few decrees. Cut-and-dried 
schemes are least of all applicable here. What is needed is that the whole of 
our Party, and the entire politically-conscious Social-Democratic proletariat 
throughout Russia, should become aware of this new problem, specify it clearly 
and everywhere set about solving it. Emerging from the captivity of the feudal 
censorship, we have no desire to become, and shall not become, prisoners of 
bourgeois-shopkeeper literary relations. We want to establish, and we shall 
establish, a free press, free not simply from the police, but also from capital, 
from careerism, and what is more, free from bourgeois-anarchist individualism. 

These last words may sound paradoxical, or an affront to the reader. What! 
some intellectual, an ardent champion of liberty, may shout. What, you want 
to impose collective control on such a delicate, individual matter as literary 
work! You want workmen to decide questions of science, philosophy, or 
aesthetics by a majority of votes! You deny the absolute freedom of absolutely 
individual ideological work! 

Calm yourselves, gentlemen! First of all, we are discussing party literature 
and its subordination to party control. Everyone is free to write and say whatever 
he likes, without any restrictions. But every voluntary association (including the 
party) is also free to expel members who use the name of the party to advocate 
anti-party views. Freedom of speech and the press must be complete. But then 
freedom of association must be complete too. I am bound to accord you, in the 
name of free speech, the full right to shout, lie and write to your heart's content. 
But you are bound to grant me, in the name of freedom of association, the right 
to enter into, or withdraw from, association with people advocating this or that 
view. The party is a voluntary association, which would inevitably break up, 
first ideologically and then physically, if it did not cleanse itself of people 
advocating anti-party views. And to define the border-line between party and 
anti-party there is the party programme, the party's resolutions on tactics and 



Ha Modernity 139 

its rules and, lastly, the entire experience of international Social-Democracy, 
the voluntary international associations of the proletariat, which has constantly 
brought into its parties individual elements and trends not fully consistent, not 
completely Marxist and not altogether correct and which, on the other hand, 
has constantly conducted periodical 'cleansings' of its ranks. So it will be with 
us too, supporters of bourgeois 'freedom of criticism', within the Party. We are 
now becoming a mass party all at once, changing abruptly to an open organiz- 
ation, and it is inevitable that we shall be joined by many who are inconsistent 
(from the Marxist standpoint), perhaps we shall be joined even by some 
Christian elements, and even by some mystics. We have sound stomachs and 
we are rock-like Marxists. We shall digest those inconsistent elements. Freedom 
of thought and freedom of criticism within the Party will never make us forget 
about the freedom of organizing people into those voluntary associations known 
as parties. 

Secondly, we must say to you bourgeois individualists that your talk about 
absolute freedom is sheer hypocrisy. There can be no real and effective 'freedom' 
in a society based on the power of money, in a society in which the masses of 
working people live in poverty and the handful of rich live like parasites. Are 
you free in relation to your bourgeois publisher, Mr Writer, in relation to your 
bourgeois public, which demands that you provide it with pornography in frames 
$nd paintings, and prostitution as a 'supplement' to 'sacred' scenic art? This 
absolute freedom is a bourgeois or an anarchist phrase (since, as a world outlook, 
anarchism is bourgeois philosophy turned inside out). One cannot live in society 
and be free from society. The freedom of the bourgeois writer, artist or actress 
$ simply masked (or hypocritically masked) dependence on the money-bag, on 
irruption, on prostitution. 

And we socialists expose this hypocrisy and rip off the false labels, not in 
order to arrive at a non-class literature and art (that will be possible only in a 
Socialist extra-class society), but to contrast this hypocritically free literature, 
which is in reality linked to the bourgeoisie, with a really free one that will be 
openly linked to the proletariat. 

It will be a free literature, because the idea of socialism and sympathy with 
the working people, and not greed or careerism, will bring ever new forces to 
its ranks. It will be a free literature, because it will serve, not some satiated 
heroine, not the bored 'upper ten thousand' suffering from fatty degeneration, 
but the millions and tens of millions of working people - the flower of the 
country, its strength and its future. It will be a free literature, enriching the 
last word in the revolutionary thought of mankind with the experience and 
living work of the socialist proletariat, bringing about permanent interaction 
between the experience of the past (scientific socialism, the completion of the 
development of socialism from its primitive, Utopian forms) and the experience 
of the present (the present struggle of the worker comrades). 

To work, then, comrades! We are faced with a new and difficult task. But it 
|S a noble and grateful one - to organize a broad, multiform and varied literature 
inseparably linked with the Social-Democratic working-class movement. All 
Social-Democratic literature must become Party literature. Every newspaper, 



i 



¥ 



140 The Idea of the Modern World 

journal, publishing house, etc., must immediately set about reorganizing its 
work, leading up to a situation in which it will, in one form or another, be 
integrated into one Party organization or another. Only then will 'Social-Demo- 
cratic' literature really become worthy of that name, only then will it be able 
to fulfil its duty and, even within the framework of bourgeois society, break 
out of bourgeois slavery and merge with the movement of the really advanced 
and thoroughly revolutionary class. 



4 Henri Bergson (1859-1941) from Creative Evolution 

Bergson achieved an extensive intellectual influence, particularly in France, in the years 
preceding the First World War. In particular, his ideas on memory, the elan vital, and 
the subjective construction of reality, pervaded the avant-garde, having an impact on 
Cubism and, more explicitly, Futurism. Originally published Paris 1907; authorized 
English translation, from which the present extract is taken, by Arthur Mitchell, London, 
1911. 

. . . fabricating consists in carving out the form of an object in matter. What is 
the most important is the form to be obtained. As to the matter, we choose 
that which is most convenient; but, in order to choose it, that is to say, in order 
to go and seek it among many others, we must have tried, in imagination at 
least, to endow every kind of matter with the form of the object conceived. In 
other words, an intelligence which aims at fabricating is an intelligence which 
never stops at the actual form of things nor regards it as final, but, on the 
contrary, looks upon all matter as if it were carvable at will. Plato compares the 
good dialectician to the skilful cook who carves the animal without breaking its 
bones, by following the articulations marked out by nature. An intelligence 
which always proceeded thus would really be an intelligence turned toward 
speculation. But action, and in particular fabrication, requires the opposite 
mental tendency: it makes us consider every actual form of things, even the 
form of natural things, as artificial and provisional; it makes our thought efface 
from the object perceived, even though organized and living, the lines that 
outwardly mark its inward structure; in short, it makes us regard its matter as 
indifferent to its form. The whole of matter is made to appear to our thought 
as an immense piece of cloth in which we can cut out what we will and sew it 
together again as we please. Let us note, in passing, that it is this power that 
we affirm when we say that there is a space, that is to say, a homogeneous and 
empty medium, infinite and infinitely divisible, lending itself indifferently to 
any mode of decomposition whatsoever. A medium of this kind is never 
perceived; it is only conceived. What is perceived is extension coloured, resistant, 
divided according to the lines which mark out the boundaries of real bodies or 
of their real elements. But when we think of our power over this matter, that 
is to say, of our faculty of decomposing and recomposing it as we please, we 
project the whole of these possible decompositions and recompositions behind 
real extension in the form of a homogeneous space, empty and indifferent, which 



IIa Modernity 141 

is supposed to underlie it. This space is therefore, pre-eminently, the plan of 
our possible action on things, although, indeed, things have a natural tendency, 
as we shall explain further on, to enter into a frame of this kind. It is a view 
taken by mind. The animal has probably no idea of it, even when, like us, it 
perceives extended things. It is an idea that symbolizes the tendency of the 
human intellect to fabrication. [...] Suffice it to say that the intellect is 
characterized by the unlimited power of decomposing according to any law and of 
recomposing into any system. [. . .] 

Instinct is sympathy. If this sympathy could extend its object and also reflect 
upon itself, it would give us the key to vital operations - just as intelligence, 
developed and disciplined, guides us into matter. For - we cannot too often 
! repeat it - intelligence and instinct are turned in opposite directions, the former 
towards inert matter, the latter towards life. Intelligence, by means of science, 
which is its work, will deliver up to us more and more completely the secret 
of physical operations; of life it brings us, and moreover only claims to bring 
us, a translation in terms of inertia. It goes all round life, taking from outside 
the greatest possible number of views of it, drawing it into itself instead of 
entering into it. But it is to the very inwardness of life that intuition leads us, 
- by intuition I mean instinct that has become disinterested, self-conscious, 
capable of reflecting upon its object and of enlarging it indefinitely. 

That an effort of this kind is not impossible, is proved by the existence in 
man of an aesthetic faculty along with normal perception. Our eye perceives 
the features of the living being, merely as assembled, not as mutually organized. 
The intention of life, the simple movement that runs through the lines, that 
binds them together and gives them significance, escapes it. This intention is 
just what the artist tries to regain, in placing himself back within the object by 
a kind of sympathy, in breaking down, by an effort of intuition, the barrier that 
space puts up between him and his model. It is true that this aesthetic intuition, 
like external perception, only attains the individual. But we can conceive an 
inquiry turned in the same direction as art, which would take life in general for 
its object, just as physical science, in following to the end the direction pointed 
out by external perception, prolongs the individual facts into general laws. No 
doubt this philosophy will never obtain a knowledge of its object comparable 
to that which science has of its own. Intelligence remains the luminous nucleus 
around which instinct, even enlarged and purified into intuition, forms only a 
vague nebulosity. But, in default of knowledge properly so called, reserved to 
pure intelligence, intuition may enable us to grasp what it is that intelligence 
fails to give us, and indicate the means of supplementing it. On the one hand, 
it will utilize the mechanism of intelligence itself to show how intellectual 
moulds cease to be strictly applicable; and on the other hand, by its own work, 
it will suggest to us the vague feeling, if nothing more, of what must take the 
place of intellectual moulds. Thus, intuition may bring the intellect to recognize 
that life does not quite go into the category of the many nor yet into that of 
the one; that neither mechanical causality nor finality can give a sufficient 
interpretation of the vital process. Then, by the sympathetic communication 



142 The Idea of the Modern World 

which it establishes between us and the rest of the living, by the expansion of 
our consciousness which it brings about, it introduces us into life's own domain 
which is reciprocal interpenetration, endlessly continued creation. But, though 
it thereby transcends intelligence, it is from intelligence that has come the push 
that has made it rise to the point it has reached. Without intelligence, it would 
have remained in the form of instinct, riveted to the special object of its practical 
interest, and turned outward by it into movements of locomotion. 

How theory of knowledge must take account of these two faculties, intellect 
and intuition, and how also, for want of establishing a sufficiently clear 
distinction between them, it becomes involved in inextricable difficulties, crea- 
ting phantoms of ideas to which there cling phantoms of problems, we shall 
endeavour to show a little further on. We shall see that the problem of 
knowledge, from this point of view, is one with the metaphysical problem, and 
that both one and the other depend upon experience. On the one hand, indeed, 
if intelligence is charged with matter and instinct with life, we must squeeze 
them both in order to get the double essence from them; metaphysics is therefore 
dependent upon theory of knowledge. But, on the other hand, if consciousness 
has thus split up into intuition and intelligence, it is because of the need it had 
to apply itself to matter at the same time as it had to follow the stream of life. 
The double form of consciousness is then due to the double form of the real, 
and theory of knowledge must be dependent upon metaphysics. In fact, each 
of these two lines of thought leads to the other; they form a circle, and there 
can be no other centre to the circle but the empirical study of evolution. It is 
only in seeing consciousness run through matter, lose itself there and find itself 
there again, divide and reconstitute itself, that we shall form an idea of the mutual 
opposition of the two terms, as also, perhaps, of their common origin. [. . .] 

Matter or mind, reality has appeared to us as a perpetual becoming. It makes 
itself or it unmakes itself, but it is never something made. Such is the intuition 
that we have of mind when we draw aside the veil which is interposed between 
our consciousness and ourselves. This, also, is what our intellect and senses 
themselves would show us of matter, if they could obtain a direct and disinter- 
ested idea of it. But, preoccupied before everything with the necessities of action, 
the intellect, like the senses, is limited to taking, at intervals, views that are 
instantaneous and by that very fact immobile of the becoming of matter. 
Consciousness, being in its turn formed on the intellect, sees clearly of the inner 
life what is already made, and only feels confusedly the making. Thus, we pluck 
out of duration those moments that interest us, and that we have gathered along 
its course. These alone we retain. And we are right in so doing, while action 
only is in question. But when, in speculating on the nature of the real, we go 
on regarding it as our practical interest requires us to regard it, we become 
unable to perceive the true evolution, the radical becoming. Of becoming we 
perceive only states, of duration only instants, and even when we speak of duration 
and of becoming, it is of another thing that we are thinking. Such is the most 
striking of the two illusions we wish to examine. It consists in supposing that we 
can think the unstable by means of the stable, the moving by means of the immobile. 



II a Modernity 143 

.The other illusion is near akin to the first. It has the same origin, being also 
j u e to the fact that we import into speculation a procedure made for practice. 
£li action aims at getting something that we feel the want of, or at creating 
something that does not yet exist. In this very special sense, it fills a void, and 
g^s from the empty to the full, from an absence to a presence, from the unreal 
^ the real. Now the unreality which is here in question is purely relative to 
^e direction in which our attention is engaged, for we are immersed in realities 
jjid cannot pass out of them; only, if the present reality is not the one we are 
seeking, we speak of the absence of this sought-for reality wherever we find the 
presence of another. We thus express what we have as a function of what we 
want. This is quite legitimate in the sphere of action. But, whether we will or 
no, we keep to this way of speaking, and also of thinking, when we speculate 
on the nature of things independently of the interest they have for us. Thus 
arises the second of the two illusions. [. . .] It is due, like the other, to the 
gtatic habits that our intellect contracts when it prepares our action on things. 
Just as we pass through the immobile to go to the moving, so we make use of 
the void in order to think the full. 

I We have met with this illusion already in dealing with the fundamental 
problem of knowledge. The question, we then said, is to know why there is 
order, and not disorder, in things. But the question has meaning only if we 
suppose that disorder, understood as an absence of order, is possible, or 
imaginable, or conceivable. Now, it is only order that is real; but, as order can 
Uke two forms, and as the presence of the one may be said to consist in the 
absence of the other, we speak of disorder whenever we have before us that one 
tf the two orders for which we are not looking. The idea of disorder is then 
ottirely practical. It corresponds to the disappointment of a certain expectation, 
*nd it does not denote the absence of all order, but only the presence of that 
order which does not offer us actual interest. So that whenever we try to deny 
order completely, absolutely, we find that we are leaping from one kind of order 
to the other indefinitely, and that the supposed suppression of the one and the 
other implies the presence of the two. [. . .] 

5 Alexander Blok (1880-1921) 'Nature and Culture' 

Blok was the leading Russian Symbolist poet. In his mystical apprehension of 'the distant 
thunder', and the contradiction between the age-old world of the soil and the modern 
world of the city and technology, he prefigured the upheavals of the First World War 
arid the Russian Revolution. 'Nature and Culture' uses the eruption of Mount Etna in 
Sicily as a metaphor for this social cataclysm. It was read as a paper to the Religious- 
Philosophical Society in St Petersburg on 30 December 1908. The present translation 
by I. Freiman is taken from Alexander Blok, The Spirit of Music, London, 1946. 

The telegraph hammers all over Europe, but it tells hardly a word of the glory fc 
that once was Messina. The vulgar words of the news-telegrams acquire the 
force of ancient Italian chronicles; but from Etna columns of yellow smoke are 
escaping. Sicily continues to tremble, and we cannot appease her tremors. 



144 The Idea of the Modern World 

Is it really necessary to be optimistic in the face of these facts? And is it 
really necessary to be a pessimist or a superstitious person in order to point 
out that the flag of culture can always be lowered whenever the distant thunder 
of approaching storm is heard. 

The earth has been shaken by underground ferments more than once. And 
more than once have we celebrated our infirmity before the plague, before 
hunger and rebellion, before the coward. What sort of frightful vindictiveness 
has been accumulated in us down the centuries? Human nature becomes more 
and more rigid, mechanized, more and more resembles a gigantic laboratory in 
which the vengeance of the elements is prepared. Science flourishes in order to 
subjugate the earth; art flourishes in order - like a winged day-dream, a 
mysterious aeroplane - to fly away from the earth; industry flourishes in order 
that people may part company with the earth. 

Every promoter of culture is a demon, cursing the earth and devising wings 
in order to fly away from it. The heart of the advocate of progress breathes 
vengeance on the earth, on the elements; on the earth's crust not yet sufficiently 
hardened; vengeance for all its difficult times and endless spaces, for the rusty 
onerous chain of cause and effect, for the injustice of life and the injustice of 
death. Persons of culture, advocates of progress, choice intellectuals, foaming at 
the mouth, construct machines, move science forward in secret spite, trying to 
forget and not to hear the rumbling of the elements, subterranean and terrestrial, 
which are stirring, now here now there. Only sometimes they awake and look 
around them and see the same earth - cursed, yet with its tranquil moments - and 
look upon it as upon some theatrical performance, some absurd, attractive tale. 

There are others for whom the earth is not a tale but a wonderful and enduring 
fact, who know the elements and know themselves as having come forth from 
them. They are 'elemental people'. They are tranquil, like the earth, but for a 
while their activity is similar to the first faint rumblings of subterranean jolts. 
They know that 'to everything there is a season and a time to every purpose 
under the sun: a time to be born and a time to die; a time to plant and a time 
to pluck up that which is planted; a time to kill and a time to heal; a time to 
break down and a time to build up.' (Ecclesiastes.) 

Some practical profession is more necessary and appropriate to them than 
industry and culture. 

They also live in a dream. But their dream is unlike our dreams, in the same 
way as the fields of Russia are unlike the brilliant bustling of the Nevsky avenue. 
We see in our dreams and we dream in reality, how we may fly away from the 
earth in a plane, how, with the help of radium, we may explore the bowels of 
the earth, and of our body, how we may reach the north pole, and, through 
the last synthetic energy of our intellect, how we may subordinate the universe 
to a single, supreme law. 

They, the elemental people, dream and create legends about the earth. They 
dream of temples, dispersed over the earth's face; of monasteries, where stands, 
behind a curtain, unseen by anyone, the statue of Nikolay, the worker of 
miracles; of the wind which sways the rye in the night - 'she who dances 
through the rye'; of the planks which rise to the surface from the bottom of a 




II a Modernity 145 

jeep pond - fragments of foreign ships, because the pond is 'a ventilator of the 
geean'. The earth is one with them and they are one with the earth, indistin- 
guishable from it. It seems now and then that the hill is animate, and the tree 
is animate, and the church is animate, as the peasant himself is animate. Only, 
everything in this plain still sleeps but, when it stirs - everything as it stands 
trill go: the peasants will go, the groves and the churches will go, and the 
incarnate Mothers of God will go forth from the hills, and the lakes will overflow 
the banks, and the rivers will flow backwards, and the whole earth will go. 
» * * 

[, . .J Between the two fires of infuriated vengeance, between two camps, we 
are living. Therefore it is so frightful. What kind of fire is it which breaks out 
into the light from under the 'crusted lava'? Is it such as devastated Calabria, 
or is this - a purifying fire? 

Whichever it is, we are living through a terrible crisis. We still do not know 
exactly what. events await us, but, in our hearts, the needle of the seismograph 
is already deflected. Already we see ourselves, as if against the background of 
a glow, flying in a light, rickety aeroplane, high above the earth; but beneath 
as is a rumbling and fire-spitting mountain, and down its sides, behind clouds 
of ashes, roll streams of red-hot lava. 



6 Filippo Tommaso Marinetti (1876-1944) 'The 
Foundation and Manifesto of Futurism' 

Marinetti was an established Symbolist poet, founder and editor of the journal Poesia 
(1905), before rejecting Symbolism in favour of new ideas about the defining charac- 
teristics of modern life: simultaneity, dynamism and speed. These became the stylistic 
preoccupations of a Futurist movement. Futurism also represented a conscious attempt 
to place Italian art in the forefront of the European avant-garde. Politically Marinetti's 
nationalism led him into a lifelong relationship with Mussolini's Fascism. The 'Founding 
Manifesto' was first published in the newspaper Le Figaro in Paris on 20 February 1909. 
It received its first English translation in 1912 in conjunction with the Futurist exhibition 
at the Sackville Gallery, London. The present translation, by R. W. Flint, is taken from 
his Marinetti's Selected Writings, London, 1971. (The ellipses are integral.) 

We had stayed up all night, my friends and I, under hanging mosque lamps 
with domes of filigreed brass, domes starred like our spirits, shining like them 
with the prisoned radiance of electric hearts. For hours we had trampled our 
atavistic ennui into rich oriental rugs, arguing up to the last confines of logic 
and blackening many reams of paper with our frenzied scribbling. 

An immense pride was buoying us up, because we felt ourselves alone at that 
hour, alone, awake, and on our feet, like proud beacons or forward sentries 
against an army of hostile stars glaring down at us from their celestial encamp- 
ments. Alone with stokers feeding the hellish fires of great ships, alone with 
the black spectres who grope in the red-hot bellies of locomotives launched 
down their crazy courses, alone with drunkards reeling like wounded birds along 
the city walls. 



146 The Idea of the Modern World 

Suddenly we jumped, hearing the mighty noise of the huge double-decker 
trams that rumbled by outside, ablaze with coloured lights, like villages on 
holiday suddenly struck and uprooted by the flooding Po and dragged over falls 
and through gorges to the sea. 

Then the silence deepened. But, as we listened to the old canal muttering its 
feeble prayers and the creaking bones of sickly palaces above their damp green 
beards, under the windows we suddenly heard the famished roar of automobiles. 

'Let's go! 1 I said. 'Friends, away! Let's go! Mythology and the Mystic Ideal 
are defeated at last. We're about to see the Centaur's birth and, soon after, the 
first flight of Angels! . . . We must shake the gates of life, test the bolts and 
hinges. Let's go! Look there, on the earth, the very first dawn! There's nothing 
to match the splendour of the sun's red sword, slashing for the first time through 
our millennial gloom!' 

We went up to the three snorting beasts, to lay amorous hands on their torrid 
breasts, I stretched out on my car like a corpse on its bier, but revived at once 
under the steering wheel, a guillotine blade that threatened my stomach. 

The raging broom of madness swept us out of ourselves and drove us through 
streets as rough and deep as the beds of torrents. Here and there, sick lamplight 
through window glass taught us to distrust the deceitful mathematics of our 
perishing eyes. 

I cried, 'The scent, the scent alone is enough for our beasts.' 

And like young lions we ran after Death, its dark pelt blotched with pale 
crosses as it escaped down the vast violet living and throbbing sky. 

But we had no ideal Mistress raising her divine form to the clouds, nor any 
cruel Queen to whom to offer our bodies, twisted like Byzantine rings! There 
was nothing to make us wish for death, unless the wish to be free at last from 
the weight of our courage! 

And on we raced, hurling watchdogs against doorsteps, curling them under 
our burning tyres like collars under a flatiron. Death, domesticated, met me at 
every turn, gracefully holding out a paw, or once in a while hunkering down, 
making velvety caressing eyes at me from every puddle. 

'Let's break out of the horrible shell of wisdom and throw ourselves like 
pride-ripened fruit into the wide, contorted mouth of the wind! Let's give 
ourselves utterly to the Unknown, not in desperation but only to replenish the 
deep wells of the Absurd!' 

The words were scarcely out of my mouth when I spun my car around with 
the frenzy of a dog trying to bite its tail, and there, suddenly, were two cyclists 
coming towards me, shaking their fists, wobbling like two equally convincing 
but nevertheless contradictory arguments. Their stupid dilemma was blocking 
my way - Damn! Ouch! ... I stopped short and to my disgust rolled over into 
a ditch with my wheels in the air. . . . 

O maternal ditch, almost full of muddy water! Fair factory drain! I gulped 
down your nourishing sludge; and I remembered the blessed black breast of my 
Sudanese nurse. . . . When I came up - torn, filthy, and stinking - from under 



Ha Modernity 147 

the capsized car, I felt the white-hot iron of joy deliciously pass through my 
heart! 

A crowd of fishermen with handlines and gouty naturalists were already 
swarming around the prodigy. With patient, loving care those people rigged a 
tall derrick and iron grapnels to fish out my car, like a big beached shark. Up 
jt came from the ditch, slowly, leaving in the bottom, like scales, its heavy 
framework of good sense and its soft upholstery of comfort. 

They thought it was dead, my beautiful shark, but a caress from me was 
enough to revive it; and there it was, alive again, running on its powerful fins! 

And so, faces smeared with good factory muck - plastered with metallic waste, 
with senseless sweat, with celestial soot - we, bruised, our arms in slings, but 
unafraid, declared our high intentions to all the living of the earth: 

Manifesto of Futurism 

1 We intend to sing the love of danger, the habit of energy and fearlessness. 

2 Courage, audacity, and revolt will be essential elements of our poetry. 

3 Up to now literature has exalted a pensive immobility, ecstasy, and sleep. 
We intend to exalt aggressive action, a feverish insomnia, the racer's stride, 

- the mortal leap, the punch and the slap. 

4 We affirm that the world's magnificence has been enriched by a new beauty: 
the beauty of speed. A racing car whose hood is adorned with great pipes, 
like serpents of explosive breath - a roaring car that seems to ride on 
grapeshot is more beautiful than the Victory of Samothrace. 

5 We want to hymn the man at the wheel, who hurls the lance of his spirit 
across the Earth, along the circle of its orbit. 

6 The poet must spend himself with ardour, splendour, and generosity, to 
swell the enthusiastic fervour of the primordial elements. 

7 Except in struggle, there is no more beauty. No work without an aggressive 
character can be a masterpiece. Poetry must be conceived as a violent attack 
on unknown forces, to reduce and prostrate them before man. 

8 We stand on the last promontory of the centuries! . . . Why should we look 
back, when what we want is to break down the mysterious doors of the 
Impossible? Time and Space died yesterday. We already live in the absolute, 
because we have created eternal, omnipresent speed. 

9 We will glorify war - the world's only hygiene - militarism, patriotism, 
the destructive gesture of freedom-bringers, beautiful ideas worth dying 
for, and scorn for woman. 

10 We will destroy the museums, libraries, academies of every kind, will fight 
moralism, feminism, every opportunistic or utilitarian cowardice. 

11 We will sing of great crowds excited by work, by pleasure, and by riot; we 
will sing of the multicoloured, polyphonic tides of revolution in the modern 
capitals; we will sing of the vibrant nightly fervour of arsenals and shipyards 
blazing with violent electric moons; greedy railway stations that devour 
smoke-plumed serpents; factories hung on clouds by the crooked lines of 
their smoke; bridges that stride the rivers like giant gymnasts, flashing in 



148 The Idea of the Modern World 

the sun with a glitter of knives; adventurous steamers that sniff the horizon; 
deep-chested locomotives whose wheels paw the tracks like the hooves of 
enormous steel horses bridled by tubing; and the sleek flight of planes 
whose propellers chatter in the wind like banners and seem to cheer like 
an enthusiastic crowd. 

It is from Italy that we launch through the world this violently upsetting 
incendiary manifesto of ours. With it, today, we establish Futurism, because we 
want to free this land from its smelly gangrene of professors, archaeologists, 
ciceroni and antiquarians. For too long has Italy been a dealer in second-hand 
clothes. We mean to free her from the numberless museums that cover her like 
so many graveyards. 

Museums: cemeteries! . . . Identical, surely, in the sinister promiscuity of so 
many bodies unknown to one another. Museums: public dormitories where one 
lies forever beside hated or unknown beings. Museums: absurd abattoirs of 
painters and sculptors ferociously slaughtering each other with colour-blows and 
line-blows, the length of the fought-over walls! 

That one should make an annual pilgrimage, just as one goes to the graveyard 
on All Souls' Day - that I grant. That once a year one should leave a floral 
tribute beneath the Gioconda, I grant you that. . . . But I don't admit that our 
sorrows, our fragile courage, our morbid restlessness should be given a daily 
conducted tour through the museums. Why poison ourselves? Why rot? 

And what is there to see in an old picture except the laborious contortions 
of an artist throwing himself against the barriers that thwart his desire to express 
his dream completely? . . . Admiring an old picture is the same as pouring our 
sensibility into a funerary urn instead of hurling it far off, in violent spasms of 
action and creation. 

Do you, then, wish to waste all your best powers in this eternal and futile 
worship of the past, from which you emerge fatally exhausted, shrunken, beaten 
down? 

In truth I tell you that daily visits to museums, libraries, and academies 
(cemeteries of empty exertion, Calvaries of crucified dreams, registries of aborted 
beginnings!) are, for artists, as damaging as the prolonged supervision by parents 
of certain young people drunk with their talent and their ambitious wills. When 
the future is barred to them, the admirable past may be a solace for the ills of 
the moribund, the sickly, the prisoner. . . . But we want no part of it, the past, 
we the young and strong Futurists] 

So let them come, the gay incendiaries with charred fingers! Here they are! Here 
they are! . . . Come on! set fire to the library shelves! Turn aside the canals to 
flood the museums! . . . Oh, the joy of seeing the glorious old canvases bobbing 
adrift on those waters, discoloured and shredded! . . . Take up your pickaxes, 
your axes and hammers and wreck, wreck the venerable cities, pitilessly! 

The oldest of us is thirty: so we have at least a decade for finishing our work. 
When we are forty, other younger and stronger men will probably throw us in 
the wastebasket like useless manuscripts - we want it to happen! 



II a Modernity 149 

They will come against us, our successors, will come from far away, from 
c very quarter, dancing to the winged cadence of their first songs, flexing the 
tiooked claws of predators, sniffing doglike at the academy doors the strong 
odour of our decaying minds, which will already have been promised to the 
literary catacombs. 

But we won't be there. ... At last they'll find us - one winter's night - in 
open country, beneath a sad roof drummed by a monotonous rain. They'll see 
u s crouched beside our trembling aeroplanes in the act of warming our hands 
a t the poor little blaze that our books of today will give out when they take 
fire from the flight of our images. 

, They'll storm around us, panting with scorn and anguish, and all of them, 
exasperated by our proud daring, will hurtle to kill us, driven by a hatred the 
more implacable the more their hearts will be drunk with love and admiration 
for us. 

Injustice, strong and sane, will break out radiantly in their eyes. 

Art, in fact, can be nothing but violence, cruelty, and injustice. 

The oldest of us is thirty: even so we have already scattered treasures, a 
thousand treasures of force, love, courage, astuteness, and raw will-power; have 
thrown them impatiently away, with fury, carelessly, unhesitatingly, breathless, 
and unresting. . . . Look at us! We are still untired! Our hearts know no 
dreariness because they are fed with fire, hatred, and speed! . . . Does that amaze 
you? It should, because you can never remember having lived! Erect on the 
summit of the world, once again we hurl our defiance at the stars! 
. You have objections? - Enough! Enough! We know them. . . . W r e've under- 
stood! . . . Our fine deceitful intelligence tells us that we are the revival and 
extension of our ancestors - Perhaps! ... If only it were so! - But who cares? 
'We don't want to understand! . . . Woe to anyone who says those infamous words 
to us again! 

Lift up your heads! 

Erect on the summit of the world, once again we hurl defiance to the stars! 



7 Umberto Boccioni (1882-1916) et al. 'Futurist 
Painting: Technical Manifesto' 

The leader of the group of young artists collected around Marinetti, the painter/sculptor 
Boccioni was primarily responsible for this attempt to apply Martnetti's example to the 
visual arts, influenced by Bergson, the Manifesto also betrays an involvement with 
Divisionism preceding the Futurist's encounter with Parisian Cubism. Originally published 
as a leaflet by Poesia in Milan, 11 April 1910 and also signed by Carlo Carra, Luigi 
Russolo, Giacomo Balla and Gino Severini. The present translation is taken from the 
Sackville Gallery catalogue of 1912. 

On the 18th of March, 1910, in the limelight of the Chiarella Theatre of Turin, 
we launched our first manifesto to a public of three thousand people - artists, 
nien of letters, students and others; it was a violent and cynical cry which 



150 The Idea of the Modern World 

displayed our sense of rebellion, our deep-rooted disgust, our haughty contempt 
for vulgarity, for academic and pedantic mediocrity, for the fanatical worship 
of all that is old and worm-eaten. 

We bound ourselves there and then to the movement of Futurist Poetry which 
was initiated a year earlier by F. T. Marinetti in the columns of the Figaro. 

The battle of Turin has remained legendary. We exchanged almost as many 
knocks as we did ideas, in order to protect from certain death the genius of 
Italian Art. 

And now during a temporary pause in this formidable struggle we come out 
of the crowd in order to expound with technical precision our programme tor 
the renovation of painting, of which our Futurist Salon at Milan was a dazzling 
manifestation. 

Our growing need of truth is no longer satisfied with Form and Colour as 
they have been understood hitherto. 

The gesture which we would reproduce on canvas shall no longer be a fixed 
moment in universal dynamism. It shall simply be the dynamic sensation itself. 

Indeed, all things move, all things run, all things are rapidly changing. A 
profile is never motionless before our eyes, but it constantly appears and 
disappears. On account of the persistency of an image upon the retina, moving 
objects constantly multiply themselves; their form changes like rapid vibrations, 
in their mad career. Thus a running horse has not four legs, but twenty, and 
their movements are triangular. 

All is conventional in art. Nothing is absolute in painting. What was truth 
for the painters of yesterday is but a falsehood today. We declare, for instance, 
that a portrait must not be like the sitter, and that the painter carries in himself 
the landscapes which he would fix upon his canvas. 

To paint a human figure you must not paint it; you must render the whole 
of its surrounding atmosphere. 

Space no longer exists: the street pavement, soaked by rain beneath the glare 
of electric lamps, becomes immensely deep and gapes to the very centre of the 
earth. Thousands of miles divide us from the sun; yet the house in front of us 
fits into the solar disk. 

Who can still believe in the opacity of bodies, since our sharpened and 
multiplied sensitiveness has already penetrated the obscure manifestations of the 
medium? Why should we forget in our creations the doubled power of our sight, 
capable of giving results analogous to those of the X-rays? 

It will be sufficient to cite a few examples, chosen amongst thousands, to 
prove the truth of our arguments. 

The sixteen people around you in a rolling motor bus are in turn and at the 
same time one, ten, four, three; they are motionless and they change places; 
they come and go, bound into the street, are suddenly swallowed up by the 
sunshine, then come back and sit before you, like persistent symbols of universal 
vibration. 

How often have we not seen upon the cheek of the person with whom we 
are talking the horse which passes at the end of the street. 

Our bodies penetrate the sofas upon which we sit, and the sofas penetrate 



r 



II a Modernity 151 

our bodies. The motor bus rushes into the houses which it passes, and in their 
turn the houses throw themselves upon the motor bus and are blended with it. 

The construction of pictures has hitherto been foolishly traditional. Painters 
have shown us the objects and the people placed before us. We shall hence- 
forward put the spectator in the centre of the picture. 

As in every realm of the human mind, clear-sighted individual research has 
swept away the unchanging obscurities of dogma, so must the vivifying current 
of science soon deliver painting from academism. 

We would at any price re-enter into life. Victorious science has nowadays 
disowned its past in order the better to serve the material needs of our time; 
we would that art, disowning its past, were able to serve at last the intellectual 
needs which are within us. 

Our renovated consciousness does not permit us to look upon man as the 
centre of universal life. The suffering of a man is of the same interest to us as 
the suffering of an electric lamp, which, with spasmodic starts, shrieks out the 
most heartrending expressions of colour. The harmony of the lines and folds 
of modern dress works upon our sensitiveness with the same emotional and 
symbolical power as did the nude upon the sensitiveness of the old masters. 

In order to conceive and understand the novel beauties of a Futurist picture, 
the soul must be purified; the eye must be freed from its veil of atavism and 
culture, so that it may at last look upon Nature and not upon the museum as 
the one and only standard. 

As soon as ever this result has been obtained, it will be readily admitted that 
brown tints have never coursed beneath our skin; it will be discovered that 
yellow shines forth in our flesh, that red blazes, and that green, blue and violet 
dance upon it with untold charms, voluptuous and caressing. 

How is it possible still to see the human face pink, now that our life, redoubled 
by noctambulism, has multiplied our perceptions as colourists? The human face 
is yellow, red, green, blue, violet. The pallor of a woman gazing in a jeweller's 
window is more intensely iridescent than the prismatic fires of the jewels that 
fascinate her like a lark. 

The time has passed for our sensations in painting to be whispered. We wish 
them in future to sing and re-echo upon our canvases in deafening and 
triumphant flourishes. 

Your eyes, accustomed to semi-darkness, will soon open to more radiant 
visions of light. The shadows which we shall paint shall be more luminous than 
the high-lights of our predecessors, and our pictures, next to those of the 
museums, will shine like blinding daylight compared with deepest night. 

We conclude that painting cannot exist today without Divisionism. This is 
no process that can be learned and applied at will. Divisionism, for the modern 
painter, must be an innate complementanness which we declare to be essential 
and necessary. 

Our art will probably be accused of tormented and decadent cerebralism. But 
we shall merely answer that we are, on the contrary, the primitives of a new 
sensitiveness, multiplied hundredfold, and that our art is intoxicated with 
spontaneity and power. 



152 The Idea of the Modern World 

WE DECLARE: 

1 That all forms of imitation must be despised, all forms of originality glorified. 

2 That it is essential to rebel against the tyranny of the terms 'harmony' and 
'good taste' as being too elastic expressions, by the help of which it is easy 
to demolish the works of Rembrandt, of Goya and of Rodin. 

3 That the art critics are useless or harmful. 

4 That all subjects previously used must be swept aside in order to express 
our whirling life of steel, of pride, of fever and of speed. 

5 That the name of 'madman' with which it is attempted to gag all innovators 
should be looked upon as a title of honour. 

6 That innate complementariness is an absolute necessity in painting, just as 
free metre in poetry or polyphony in music. 

7 That universal dynamism must be rendered in painting as a dynamic 
sensation. 

8 That in the manner of rendering Nature the first essential is sincerity and 
purity. 

9 That movement and light destroy the materiality of bodies. 

WE FIGHT: 

1 Against the bituminous tints by which it is attempted to obtain the patina 
of time upon modern pictures. 

2 Against the superficial and elementary archaism founded upon flat tints, and 
which, by imitating the linear technique of the Egyptians, reduces painting 
to a powerless synthesis, both childish and grotesque. 

3 Against the false claims to belong to the future put forward by the seces- 
sionists and the independents, who have installed new academies no less trite 
and attached to routine than the preceding ones. 

4 Against the nude in painting, as nauseous and as tedious as adultery in 
literature. 

We wish to explain this last point. Nothing is immoral in our eyes; it is the 
monotony of the nude against which we fight. We are told that the subject is 
nothing and that everything lies in the manner of treating it. That is agreed; 
we too, admit that. But this truism, unimpeachable and absolute fifty years ago, 
is no longer so today with regard to the nude, since artists obsessed with the 
desire to expose the bodies of their mistresses have transformed the Salons into 
arrays of unwholesome flesh! 

We demand, for ten years, the total suppression of the nude in painting. 



8 Robert Delaunay (1885-1941) 4 On the 

Construction of Reality in Pure Painting' 

Delaunay was associated with the 'public' group of Cubists (including Leger, Gleizes 
and Metzinger), who addressed themes related to modern life more explicitly than either 




Ha Modernity 153 

geaque ° r Picasso. He went on to develop a virtually abstract, colour-based art, derived 
from his Cubism. For this he was credited by the critic Guillaume Apollinaire with having 
origin ated the sui generis movement of 'Orphism'. This 'aesthetic declaration' by Delau- 
nay was published in full by Apollinaire in the course of his own article, 'Reality, Pure 
painting', in Der Sturm, Berlin, December 1912. The present translation, by Susan 
Suleiman, is taken from Leroy C. Breunig (ed.), Apollinaire on Art, London, 1972. 

Realism is the eternal quality in art; without it there can be no permanent 
beauty, because it is the very essence of beauty. 

Let us seek purity of means in painting, the clearest expression of beauty. 

In impressionism - and 1 include in that term all the tendencies that reacted 
to it: neo-impressionism, precubism, cubism, neocubism, in other words, every- 
thing that represents technique and scientific procedure - we find ourselves face 
fo face with nature, far from all the correctness of 'styles,' whether Italian, 
Gothic, African, or any other. 

From this point of view, impressionism is undeniably a victory, but an 
incomplete one. The first stammer of souls brimming over in the face of nature, 
and still somewhat stunned by this great reality. Their enthusiasm has done 
fway with all the false ideas and archaic procedures of traditional painting 
(draftsmanship, geometry, perspective) and has dealt a deathblow to the neo- 
classical, pseudo-intellectual, and moribund Academy. 

This movement of liberation began with the impressionists. They had had 
firecursors: El Greco, a few English painters, and our own revolutionary Delacroix. 
It was a great period of preparation in the search for the only reality: 'light,' which 
finally brought all these experiments and reactions together in impressionism. 
1 ; One of the major problems of modern painting today is still the way in which 
jfche light that is necessary to all vital expressions of beauty functions. It was 
Seurat who discovered the 'contrast of complementaries' in light. 
.Seurat was the first theoretician of light. Contrast became a means of 
expression. His premature death broke the continuity of his discoveries. Among 
the impressionists, he may be considered the one who attained the ultimate in 
means of expression. 

His creation remains the discovery of the contrast of complementary colors. 
(Optical blending by means of dots, used by Seurat and his associates, was only 
a technique; it did not yet have the importance of contrasts used as a means 
of construction in order to arrive at pure expression.) 

He used this first means to arrive at a specific representation of nature. His 
paintings are kinds of fleeting images. 

■:! Simultaneous contrast was not discovered, that is to say, achieved, by the most 
daring impressionists; yet it is the only basis of pure expression in painting today. 

Simultaneous contrast ensures the dynamism of colors and their construction 
lT * the painting; it is the most powerful means to express reality. 

Means of expression must not be personal; on the contrary, they must be 
Within the comprehension of every intuition of the beautiful, and an artist's 
metier must be of the same nature as his creative conception. 

The simultaneity of colors through simultaneous contrasts and through all the 
(uneven) quantities that emanate from the colors, in accordance with the way 



154 The Idea of the Modern World 

they are expressed in the movement represented - that is the only reality one 
can construct through painting. 

We are no longer dealing here either with effects (neo-impressionism within 
impressionism), or with objects (cubism within impressionism), or with images 
(the physics of cubism within impressionism). 

We are attaining a purely expressive art, one that excludes all the styles of 
the past (archaic, geometric) and is becoming a plastic art with only one purpose: 
to inspire human nature toward beauty. Light is not a method, it slides toward 
us, it is communicated to us by our sensibility. Without the perception of light 

- the eye - there can be no movement. In fact, it is our eyes that transmit the 
sensations perceived in nature to our soul. Our eyes are the receptacles of the 
present and, therefore, of our sensibility. Without sensibility, that is, without 
light, we can do nothing. Consequently, our soul finds its most perfect sensation 
of life in harmony, and this harmony results only from the simultaneity with 
which the quantities and conditions of light reach the soul (the supreme sense) 
by the intermediary of the eyes. 

And the soul judges the forms of the image of nature by comparison with 
nature itself - a pure criticism - and it governs the creator. The creator takes 
note of everything that exists in the universe through entity, succession, 
imagination, and simultaneity. 

Nature, therefore, engenders the science of painting. 

The first paintings were simply a line encircling the shadow of a man made 
by the sun on the surface of the earth. 

But how far removed we are, with our contemporary means, from these effigies 

- we who possess light (light colors, dark colors, their complementaries, their 
intervals, and their simultaneity) and all the quantities of colors emanating from 
the intellect to create harmony. 

Harmony is sensibility ordered by the creator, who must try to render the 
greatest degree of realistic expression, or what might be called the subject; the 
subject is harmonic proportion, and this proportion is composed of various 
simultaneous elements in a single action. The subject is eternal in the work of 
art, and it must be apparent to the initiated in all its order, all its science. 

Without the subject, there are no possibilities. This does not, however, mean 
a literary and, therefore, anecdotic subject; the subject of painting is exclusively 
plastic, and it results from vision. It must be the pure expression of human 
nature. 

The eternal subject is to be found in nature itself; the inspiration and clear 
vision characteristic of the wise man, who discovers the most beautiful and 
powerful boundaries. [ . . . ] 



9 Percy Wyndham Lewis (1882-1957) 'Our Vortex' 

Wyndham Lewis led the radical, 'Vorticist' wing of the English avant-garde before the 
First World War f in opposition to the more traditionally oriented Bloomsbury group 
around Fry and Bell. He was the co-founder and editor of Blast, the journal of the Vorticist 



Ha Modernity 155 

group, published both in emulation of and in competition with Futurist manifestations. 
The present text was originally published in the first issue of Blast, London, June 1914. 

I Our vortex is not afraid of the Past: it has forgotten its existence. 
Our vortex regards the Future as as sentimental as the Past. 

The Future is distant, like the Past, and therefore sentimental. 

The mere element 'Past' must be retained to sponge up and absorb our 
melancholy. 

Everything absent, remote, requiring projection in the veiled weakness of the 
mind, is sentimental 

The Present can be intensely sentimental - especially if you exclude the mere 
element 4 Past\ 

Our vortex does not deal in reactive Action only, nor identify the Present 
with numbing displays of vitality. 

The new vortex plunges to the heart of the Present. 

The chemistry of the Present is different to that of the Past. With this 
different chemistry we produce a New Living Abstraction. 

The Rembrandt Vortex swamped the Netherlands with a flood of dreaming. 

The Turner Vortex rushed at Europe with a wave of light. 

We wish the Past and Future with us, the Past to mop up our melancholy, 
the Future to absorb our troublesome optimism. 

With our Vortex the Present is the only active thing. 

Life is the Past and the Future. 

The Present is Art. 

II Our Vortex insists on water-tight compartments. 

There is no Present - there is Past and Future, and there is Art. 

Any moment not weakly relaxed and slipped back, or, on the other hand, 
dreaming optimistically, is Art. 

'Just Life' or soi-disant 'Reality' is a fourth quantity, made up of the Past, 
the Future and Art. 

This impure Present our Vortex despises and ignores. 

For our Vortex is uncompromising. 

We must have the Past and the Future, Life simple, that is, to discharge 
ourselves in, and keep us pure for non-life, that is Art. 

The Past and Future are the prostitutes Nature has provided. 

Art is periodic escapes from this Brothel. 

Artists put as much vitality and delight into this saintliness, and escape out, 
as most men do their escapes into similar places from respectable existence. 

The Vorticist is at his maximum point of energy when stillest. 

The Vorticist is not the Slave of Commotion, but its Master. 

The Vorticist does not suck up to Life. 

He lets Life know its place in a Vorticist Universe! 

III In a Vorticist Universe we don't get excited at what we have invented. 
If we did it would look as though it had been a fluke. 

It is not a fluke. 



156 The Idea of the Modern World 

We have no Verbotens. 

There is one Truth, ourselves, and everything is permitted. 

But we are not Templars. 

We are proud, handsome and predatory. 

We hunt machines, they are our favourite game. 

We invent them and then hunt them down. 

This is a great Vorticist age, a great still age of artists. 

IV As to the lean belated Impressionism at present attempting to eke out a 
little life in these islands: 

Our Vortex is fed up with your dispersals, reasonable chicken-men. 

Our Vortex is proud of its polished sides. 

Our Vortex will not hear of anything but its disastrous polished dance. 

Our Vortex desires the immobile rhythm of its swiftness. 

Our Vortex rushes out like an angry dog at your Impressionistic fuss. 

Our Vortex is white and abstract with its red-hot swiftness. 



10 Franz Marc (1880-1916) 'Foreword' to the 
planned second volume of Der Blaue Reiter 

Though a second edition of the original almanac was published in 1914, the planned 
second volume was aborted because of the war. In Marc's proposed editorial statement 
the assertive primitivism of the pre-war years takes a darker cast from contemporary 
events. The present translation is taken from K. Lankheit (ed.), Blaue Reiter Almanac, 
London, 1974. 

Once more and many times more we are trying to divert the attention of ardent 
men from the nice and pretty illusion inherited from the olden days toward 
existence, horrible and resounding. 

Whenever the leaders of the crowds turn right, we turn left; when they point 
to a goal, we turn our backs; whatever they warn us against we hurry toward. 

The world is crammed to suffocation. On every stone man has put the brand 
of his cleverness. Every word is leased or invested. What can man do for 
salvation but give up everything and flee? What but draw a dividing line between 
yesterday and today? 

This is the great task of our time - the only one worth living and dying for. 
Not the slightest contempt for the great past is involved in this. We want 
something else. We do not want to live as carefree heirs or to live on the past. 
Even if we wanted to live like that, we could not. The inheritance is used up, 
and substitutes are making the world base. 

Therefore we venture forth into new fields, and we are shocked to find that 
everything is still untrodden, unspoken, uncultivated, unexplored. The world 
lies virginal before us; our steps are shaky. If we dare to walk, we must cut the 
umbilical cord that ties us to our maternal past. 

The world is giving birth to a new time; there is only one question: has the 
time now come to separate ourselves from the old world? Are we ready for the 



Ha Modernity 157 

vita nuova? This is the terrifying question of our age. It is the question that 
will dominate this book. Everything in this volume is related to this question 
and to nothing else. By it alone should we measure its form and its value. 

11 Fernand Leger (1881-1955) 'Contemporary 
Achievements in Painting' 

Leger's Cubism was oriented towards modern life and the achievement of a modern 
form of painting adequate to the experience of such a life. Paradoxically, it was the 
freeing of painting from the necessity to depict modernity that was seen to underwrite 
the promise of modernity's being properly represented. First published in the journal 
Soirees de Pahs in 1914. The present translation, by Alexander Anderson, is taken 
from F. Leger, The Function of Painting, New York, 1973. 

Contemporary achievements in painting are the result of the modern mentality 
and are closely bound up with the visual aspect of external things that are 
creative and necessary for the painter. 

Before tackling the purely technical questions, I am going to try to explain 
why contemporary painting is representative, in the modern sense of the word, 
of the new visual state imposed by the evolution of the new means of production. 

A work of art must be significant in its own time, like any other intellectual 
manifestation. Because painting is visual, it is necessarily the reflection of 
external rather than psychological conditions. Every pictorial work must possess 
this momentary and eternal value that enables it to endure beyond the epoch 
of its creation. 

If pictorial expression has changed, it is because modern life has necessitated 
it. The existence of modern creative people is much more intense and more 
complex than that of people in earlier centuries. The thing that is imagined is 
less fixed, the object exposes itself less than it did formerly. When one crosses 
a landscape by automobile or express train, it becomes fragmented; it loses in 
descriptive value but gains in synthetic value. The view through the door of 
the railroad car or the automobile windshield, in combination with the speed, 
has altered the habitual look of things. A modern man registers a hundred times 
niore sensory impressions than an eighteenth-century artist; so much so that 
our language, for example, is full of diminutives and abbreviations. The com- 
pression of the modern picture, its variety, its breaking up of forms, are the 
result of all this. It is certain that the evolution of the means of locomotion 
and their speed have a great deal to do with the new way of seeing. Many 
superficial people raise the cry 'anarchy' in front of these pictures because they 
cannot follow the whole evolution of contemporary life that painting records. 
They believe that painting has abruptly broken the chain of continuity, when, 
On the contrary, it has never been so truly realistic, so firmly attached to its 
own period as it is today. A kind of painting that is realistic in the highest 
se nse is beginning to appear, and it is here to stay. 

A new criterion has appeared in response to a new state of things. Innumerable 
Samples of rupture and change crop up unexpectedly in our visual awareness. 



158 The Idea of the Modern World 

I will choose the most striking examples. The advertising billboard, dictated by 
modern commercial needs, that brutally cuts across a landscape is one of the 
things that has most infuriated so-called men of . . . good taste. [. . .] 
* * * 

In spite of this resistance, the old-fashioned costume of the towns has had to 
evolve with everything else. The black suit, which contrasts with the bright 
feminine outfits at fashionable gatherings, is a clear manifestation of an evolution 
in taste. Black and white resound and clash, and the visual effect of present-day 
fashionable parties is the exact opposite of the effect that similar social gatherings 
in the eighteenth century, for example, would have produced. The dress of that 
period was all in the same tones, the whole aspect was more decorative, less 
strongly contrasted, and more uniform. 

Evolution notwithstanding, the average bourgeois has retained his ideas of 
tone on tone, the decorative concept. The red parlor, the yellow bedroom, will, 
especially in the provinces, continue to be the last word in good form for a 
long time. Contrast has always frightened peaceful and satisfied people; they 
eliminate it from their lives as much as possible, and as they are disagreeably 
startled by the dissonances of some billboard or other, so their lives are organized 
to avoid all such uncouth contact. This milieu is the last one an artist should 
frequent; truth is shrouded and feared; all that remains is manners, from which 
an artist can seek in vain to learn something. 

In earlier periods, the utilization of contrasts could never be fully exploited 
for several reasons. First, the necessity for strict subservience to a subject that 
had to have a sentimental value. 

Never, until the impressionists, had painting been able to shake off the spell 
of literature. Consequently, the utilization of plastic contrasts had to be diluted 
by the need to tell a story, which painters have now recognized as completely 
unnecessary. 

From the day the impressionists liberated painting, the modern picture set 
out at once to structure itself on contrasts; instead of submitting to a subject, 
the painter makes an insertion and uses a subject in the service of purely plastic 
means. All the artists who have shocked public opinion in the last few years 
have always sacrificed the subject to the pictorial effect. [ . . . ] 

This liberation enables the contemporary painter to use these means in dealing 
with the new visual state that I have just described. He must prepare himself 
in order to confer a maximum of plastic effect on means that have not yet been 
so used. He must not become an imitator of the new visual objectivity, but be 
a sensibility completely subject to the new state of things. 

He will not be original just because he will have broken up an object or placed 
a red or yellow square in the middle of his canvas; he will be original by virtue 
of the fact that he has caught the creative spirit of these external manifestations. 

As soon as one admits that only realism in conception is capable of realizing, 
in the most plastic sense of the word, these new effects of contrast, one must 
abandon visual realism and concentrate all the plastic means toward a specific goal. 

Composition takes precedence over all else; to obtain their maximum express- 
iveness, lines, forms, and colors must be employed with the utmost possible 



Ha Modernity 159 

logic. It is the logical spirit that will achieve the greatest result, and by the 
logical spirit in art, I mean the power to order one's sensibility and to 
concentrate one's means in order to yield the maximum effect in the result. 

It is true that if I look at objects in their surroundings, in the real atmosphere, 
J do not perceive any line bounding the zones of color, of course; but this 
belongs to the realm of visual realism and not to the wholly modern one 
of realism in conception. To try deliberately to eliminate specific means of 
expression such as outlines and forms except for their significance in terms of 
color is childish and retrograde. The modern picture can have lasting value and 
escape death not by excluding some means of expression because of a prejudice 
for one alone but, on the contrary, by concentrating all the possible means of 
plastic expression on a specific goal. Modern painters have understood that; 
before them, a drawing had one special value, and a painting had another. From 
now on, everything is brought together, in order to attain essential variety along 
with maximum realism. A painter who calls himself modern, and who rightly 
considers perspective and sentimental value to be negative methods, must be 
able to replace them in his pictures with something other than, for instance, an 
unending harmony of pure tones. 
♦ * * 

By employing all the pictorial means of expression, composition through 
multiplicative contrast not only allows a greater range of realistic experience, 
but also ensures variety; in fact, instead of opposing two means of expression 
in an immediate cumulative relationship, you compose a picture so that groups 
■pi similar forms are opposed by other contrary groupings. If you distribute your 
color in the same way, that is, by adding similar tones, coloring each of these 
groupings of forms in contrast with the tones of an equivalent addition, you 
obtain collective sources of tones, lines, and colors acting against other contrary 
and dissonant sources. Contrast = dissonance, and hence a maximum expressive 
effect. I will take as an example a commonplace subject: the visual effect of 
curled and round puffs of smoke rising between houses. You want to convey 
their plastic value. Here you have the best example on which to apply research 
into multiplicative intensities. Concentrate your curves with the greatest possible 
variety without breaking up their mass; frame them by means of the hard, dry 
relationship of the surfaces of the houses, dead surfaces that will acquire 
movement by being colored in contrast to the central mass and being opposed 
by live forms; you will obtain a maximum effect. 

This theory is not an abstraction but is formulated according to observations 
of natural effects that are verified every day. I purposely did not take a so-called 
Modern subject because I do not know what is an ancient or modern subject; 
all I know is what is a new interpretation. But locomotives, automobiles, if you 
insist, advertising billboards, are all good for the application of a form of 
Movements; all this research comes, as I have said, from the modern environ- 
ment. But you can advantageously substitute the most banal, worn-out subject, 
like a nude in a studio and a thousand others, for locomotives and other modern 
engines that are difficult to pose in one's studio. All that is method; the only 
interesting thing is how it is used. 



160 The Idea of the Modern World 



II a Modernity 161 



12 Henri Gaudier-Brzeska (1891-1915) 
'Gaudier-Brzeska Vortex' and 'Vortex 
Gaudier-Brzeska (Written from the Trenches)' 

French by birth, Gaudier lived in England from the end of 1910, first being peripherally 
associated with the journal Rhythm, and then with the Vorticist group around Wyndham 
Lewis. Both texts reprinted here are marked by a rejection of the Greek/classical 
tradition in favour of a primitivist directness of expression. Intellectually both are marked 
by Bergson and Nietzsche. The first essay was published in Blast in June 1914, before 
the outbreak of war; the second, in effect a letter from the Front, was published in 
Blast 2 in autumn 1915, after Gaudier-Brzeska's death in action. 

Gaudier-Brzeska Vortex 

Sculptural energy is the mountain. 

Sculptural feeling is the appreciation of masses in relation. 

Sculptural ability is the defining of these masses by planes. 

The PALEOLITHIC VORTEX resulted in the decoration of the Dordogne 
caverns. 

Early stone-age man disputed the earth with animals. 

His livelihood depended on the hazards of the hunt - his greatest victory the 
domestication of a few species. 

Out of the minds primordially preoccupied with animals Fonts-de-Gaume 
gained its procession of horses carved in the rock. The driving power was life 
in the absolute - the plastic expression the fruitful sphere. 

The sphere is thrown through space, it is the soul and object of the vortex - 

The intensity of existence had revealed to man a truth of form - his manhood 
was strained to the highest potential - his energy brutal - HIS OPULENT 
MATURITY WAS CONVEX. 

The acute fight subsided at the birth of the three primary civilizations. It 
always retained more intensity East. 

The HAMITE VORTEX of Egypt, the land of plenty - 

Man succeeded in his far reaching speculations - Honour to the divinity! 

Religion pushed him to the use of the VERTICAL which inspires awe. His 
gods were self made, he built them in his image, and RETAINED AS MUCH 
OF THE SPHERE AS COULD ROUND THE SHARPNESS OF THE 
PARALLELOGRAM. 

He preferred the pyramid to the mastaba. 

The fair Greek felt this influence across the middle sea. 

The fair Greek saw himself only. HE petrified his own semblance. 

HIS SCULPTURE WAS DERIVATIVE his feeling for form secondary. The 
absence of direct energy lasted for a thousand years. 

The Indians felt the hamitic influence through Greek spectacles. Their 
extreme temperament inclined towards asceticism, admiration of non-desire as 
a balance against abuse produced a kind of sculpture without new form 
perception - and which is the result of the peculiar. 



Yortex of Blackness and Silence 

PLASTIC SOUL IS INTENSITY OF LIFE BURSTING THE PLANE. 

The Germanic barbarians were verily whirled by the mysterious need of 
acquiring new arable lands. They moved restlessly, like strong oxen stampeding. 

The SEMITIC VORTEX was the lust of war. The men of Elam, of Assur, 
f Bebel and the Kheta, the men of Armenia and those of Canaan had to slay 
each other cruelly for the possession of fertile valleys. Their gods sent them 
the vertical direction, the earth, the SPHERE. 

They elevated the sphere in a splendid squatness and created the HORIZON- 
TAL. 

From Sargon to Amir-nasir-pal men built man-headed bulls in horizontal 
flight-walk. Men flayed their captives alive and erected howling lions: THE 
ELONGATED HORIZONTAL SPHERE BUTTRESSED ON FOUR COL- 
UMNS, and their kingdoms disappeared. 

Christ flourished and perished in Yudah. 

Christianity gained Africa, and from the seaports of the Mediterranean it won 
the Roman Empire. 

The stampeding Franks came into violent contact with it as well as the 
Greco-Roman tradition. 

They were swamped by the remote reflections of the two vortices of the West. 

Gothic sculpture was but a faint echo of the HAMITO-SEMITIC energies 
through Roman traditions, and it lasted half a thousand years, and it wilfully 
divagated again into the Greek derivation from the land of Amen-Ra. 

VORTEX OF A VORTEX!! 

VORTEX IS THE POINT ONE AND INDIVISIBLE! 

VORTEX IS ENERGY! and it gave forth SOLID EXCREMENTS in the 
quattro e cinque cento, LIQUID until the seventeenth century, GASES whistle 
till now. THIS is the history of form value in the West until the FALL OF 
IMPRESSIONISM. 

The black-haired men who wandered through the pass of Khotan into the 
valley of the YELLOW RIVER lived peacefully tilling their lands, and they 
grew prosperous. 

Their paleolithic feeling was intensified. As gods they had themselves in the 
persons of their human ancestors - and of the spirits of the horse and of the 
land and the grain. 

THE SPHERE SWAYED. 

THE VORTEX WAS ABSOLUTE. 

The Shang and Chow dynasties produced the convex bronze vases. 

The features of Tao-t'ie were inscribed inside of the square with the rounded 
corners - the centuple spherical frog presided over the inverted truncated cone 
that is the bronze war drum. 

THE VORTEX WAS INTENSE MATURITY. Maturity is fecundity - they 
grew numerous and it lasted for six thousand years. 



162 The Idea of the Modern World 

The force relapsed and they accumulated wealth, forsook their work, and after 
losing their form-understanding through the Han and T'ang dynasties, they 
founded the Ming and found artistic ruin and sterility. 

THE SPHERE LOST SIGNIFICANCE AND THEY ADMIRED THEM- 
SELVES. 

During their great period off-shoots from their race had landed on another 
continent. After many wanderings some tribes settled on the highlands of 
Yukatan and Mexico. 

When the Ming were losing their conception, these neo-Mongols had a 
flourishing state. Through the strain of warfare they submitted the Chinese 
sphere to horizontal treatment much as the Semites had done. Their cruel nature 
and temperament supplied them with a stimulant: THE VORTEX OF DE- 
STRUCTION. 

Besides these highly developed peoples there lived on the world other races 
inhabiting Africa and the Ocean islands. 

When we first knew them they were very near the paleolithic stage. Though 
they were not so much dependent upon animals their expenditure of energy 
was wide, for they began to till the land and practice crafts rationally, and they 
fell into contemplation before their sex: the site of their great energy: THEIR 
CONVEX MATURITY. 

They pulled the sphere lengthways and made the cylinder, this is the 
VORTEX OF FECUNDITY, and it has left us the masterpieces that are known 
as love charms. 

The soil was hard, material difficult to win from nature, storms frequent, as 
also fevers and other epidemics. They got frightened: This is the VORTEX OF 
FEAR, its mass is the POINTED CONE, its masterpieces the fetishes. 

And WE the moderns: Epstein, Brancusi, Archipenko, Dunikowski, Modiglia- 
ni, and myself, through the incessant struggle in the complex city, have likewise 
to spend much energy. 

The knowledge of our civilization embraces the world, we have mastered the 
elements. 

We have been influenced by what we liked most, each according to his own 
individuality, we have crystallized the sphere into the cube, we have made a 
combination of all the possible shaped masses - concentrating them to express 
our abstract thoughts of conscious superiority. 

Will and consciousness are our 

VORTEX. 



Vortex Gaudier-Brzeska 

(WRITTEN FROM THE TRENCHES) 

I HAVE BEEN FIGHTING FOR TWO MONTHS and I can now gauge the 
intensity of life. 

HUMAN MASSES teem and move, are destroyed and crop up again. 

HORSES are worn out in three weeks, die by the roadside. 



II a Modernity 163 

DOGS wander, are destroyed, and others come along. 

WITH ALL THE DESTRUCTION that works around us NOTHING IS 
CHANGED, EVEN SUPERFICIALLY. LIFE IS THE SAME STRENGTH . 
fHE MOVING AGENT THAT PERMITS THE SMALL INDIVIDUAL 
f ASSERT HIMSELF. 

i THE BURSTING SHELLS, the volleys, wire entanglements, projectors, 
Rotors, the chaos of battle DO NOT ALTER IN THE LEAST the outlines 
f the hill we are besieging. A company of PARTRIDGES scuttle along before 
our verv trench. 

v IT WOULD BE FOLLY TO SEEK ARTISTIC EMOTIONS AMID 
fTHESE LITTLE WORKS OF OURS. 

-THIS PALTRY MECHANISM, WHICH SERVES AS A PURGE TO 
0VER-NUMEROUS HUMANITY. 
I THIS WAR IS A GREAT REMEDY. 

e IN THE INDIVIDUAL IT KILLS ARROGANCE, SELF-ESTEEM, 
#RIDE. 

^ IT TAKES AWAY FROM THE MASSES NUMBERS UPON NUMBERS 
OF UNIMPORTANT UNITS, WHOSE ECONOMIC ACTIVITIES 
BECOME NOXIOUS AS THE RECENT TRADES CRISES HAVE SHOWN 

& MY VIEWS ON SCULPTURE REMAIN ABSOLUTELY THE SAME . 
PIT IS THE VORTEX OF WILL, OF DECISION, THAT BEGINS. 
i I SHALL DERIVE MY EMOTIONS SOLELY FROM THE ARRANGE- 
MENT OF SURFACES, I shall present my emotions by the ARRANGEMENT 
m MY SURFACES, THE PLANES AND LINES BY WHICH THEY ARE 
©EFINED. 

^Just as this hill where the Germans are solidly entrenched, gives me a nasty 
^feeling, solely because its gentle slopes are broken up by earth-works, which 
throw long shadows at sunset. Just so shall I get feeling, of whatsoever definition, 
from a statue ACCORDING TO ITS SLOPES, varied to infinity. 
-■ I have made an experiment. Two days ago I pinched from an enemy a mauser 
*ifle. Its heavy unwieldy shape swamped me with a powerful IMAGE of brutality. 

I was in doubt for a long time whether it pleased or displeased me. 

I found that I did not like it. 

I broke the butt off and with my knife I carved in it a design, through which 
'I tried to express a gentler order of feeling, which I preferred. 

BUT I WILL EMPHASIZE that MY DESIGN got its effect (just as the 
gun had) FROM A VERY SIMPLE COMPOSITION OF LINES AND 
PLANES. 



13 Karl Kraus (1874-1936) from 'In These Great Times' 

Kraus lived and worked in Vienna. He was an author and playwright, but is best known 
% the journal Die Fackel (The Torch) which he published virtually single-handed from 
1899 to 1936, the time of the Anschluss, His linguistic facility and obsessive attention 



164 The Idea of the Modern World 

to detail were legendary, as were his sustained attacks on the hypocrisy of the 
institutions of Austrian life. On the outbreak of the First World War, Kraus fell silent 
feeling that a hasty response would be subject to misunderstanding in the charge^ 
atmosphere of the time. His silence was broken by the address In dieser grossen Zeif 
read on 19 November 1914 in Vienna and published in Die Fackel the following month' 
The present extract is taken from the opening section of the translation in H. Zohn (ed.)' 
In These Great Times: A Kari Kraus Reader, Manchester, 1976/84. (The 'manifesto' to 
which Kraus refers was the proclamation of war, To My Peoples', delivered by the 
Emperor Franz Josef in August 1914.) 

In these great times which I knew when they were this small; which will become 
small again, provided they have time left for it; and which, because in the realm 
of organic growth no such transformation is possible, we had better call fat 
times and, truly, hard times as well; in these times in which things are happening 
that could not be imagined and in which what can no longer be imagined must 
happen, for if one could imagine it, it would not happen; in these serious times 
which have died laughing at the thought that they might become serious; which, 
surprised by their own tragedy, are reaching for diversion and, catching them- 
selves redhanded, are groping for words; in these loud times which boom with 
the horrible symphony of actions which produce reports and of reports which 
cause actions: in these times you should not expect any words of my own from 
me - none but these words which barely manage to prevent silence from being 
misinterpreted. Respect for the immutability, the subordination of language 
before this misfortune is too deeply rooted in me. In the realm of poverty of 
imagination where people die of spiritual famine without feeling spiritual hunger, 
where pens are dipped in blood and swords in ink, that which is not thought 
must be done, but that which is only thought is unutterable. Expect no words 
of my own from me. Nor would I be able to say anything new, for in the room 
in which one writes there is such noise, and at this time one should not 
determine whether it comes from animals, from children, or merely from 
mortars. He who encourages deeds with words desecrates words and deeds and 
is doubly despicable. This occupation is not extinct. Those who now have 
nothing to say because actions are speaking continue to talk. Let him who has 
something to say come forward and be silent! Nor may I bring out old words 
as long as deeds are committed that are new to us and spectators say that they 
were not to be expected of them. My words were able to drown out rotary 
presses, and if these were not brought to a standstill, this is no reflection on 
my words. Even the greater machine has not managed to do it, and an ear that 
hears the trumpets of the day. All that blood has not made the muck of life 
congeal in fright, nor has it made printer's ink blanch. The maw, rather, 
swallowed up the many swords, and we looked only at the maw and measured 
greatness only by the maw. And 'gold for iron 1 fell from the altar into the 
operetta, bombing was a music-hall song, and fifteen thousand prisoners were 
put in a special edition of the newspaper which a soubrette read from the stage 
so that a librettist might take a curtain call. For me (the insatiable one who 
does not have sacrifices enough), the line commanded by fate has not been 
reached. For me it is war only if only those who are unfit are sent off to it- 



Ha Modernity 165 

^otherwise my peace has no peace; I secretly prepare for the great times and 

&ink thoughts that I can tell only to the Good Lord and not to the good state 

\-ffiich now does not permit me to tell it that it is too tolerant. For if the state 

jpes not now have the idea of choking off the so-called freedom of the press, 

phich does not notice a few white spots, then it never will; and if I were to 

~Ut this into its head, the state would do violence to the idea, and my text 

tfould be the only victim. So I shall have to wait, though I am the only Austrian 

w ho cannot wait but would like to see the end of the world replaced by a simple 

aU to-da-fe. The idea which I should like to put into the heads of the actual 

holders of nominal power is only an idee fixe of mine. But an unstable state of 

Ownership, that of a state and of a civilized world, is saved by such fixed ideas. 

{i general is not believed when he talks about the importance of swamps - until 

one day Europe is viewed only as the surroundings of swamps. Of a terrain I 

$ee only the swamps, of their depth I see only the surface, of a situation I see 

Inly its manifestations, of these I see only a reflection, and even of that I see 

JUrily the outlines. And sometimes an intonation or even a hallucination suffices 

iSe. Do me the favor, just for fun, of following me to the surface of this 

Stoblem-deep world which was not created until it became cultured, which 

icvolves around its own axis and wishes the sun revolved around it. 

^ Above that exalted manifesto, that prose poem which initiated a time full of 

Miction, the only poem this time has produced till now, above the most humane 

t|i»ster which the street was able to offer our eyes there hangs the head of a 

Vaudeville comedian, larger than life. Next to it a manufacturer of rubber heels 

sglesecrates the mystery of creation by saying of a kicking infant that this is the 

fjgiily way a human being ought to come into the world, using this particular 

fSrand. If I am of the opinion that, things being the way they are, it would be 

fetter if people did not come into the world at all, I am an eccentric. But if I 

flaintain that under such circumstances no one will come into the world in the 

fiiture and that at a later date boot-heels may come into the world but without 

the persons to go with them, because they were not able to keep pace with their 

#wn development and stayed behind as the last obstacle to their progress - if 

I maintain this sort of thing, I am a fool who deduces the whole condition from 

ft symptom, the plague from a bubo. If I were not a fool but an educated man, 

I would draw such bold conclusions from a bacillus and not from a bubo, and 

People would believe me. How foolish to say that one should confiscate the 

bubo to rid oneself of the plague! But I am truly of the opinion that in this 

time, however we may call it or evaluate it, whether it is out of joint or already 

Set right, whether it is accumulating murder and rottenness before the eyes of 

♦ Hamlet or is already becoming ripe for the arm of a Fortinbras - that in its 

condition the root lies at the surface. This sort of thing can be made clear by 

a great confusion, and what was once paradoxical is now confirmed by the great 

times. Since I am neither a politician nor his half-brother, an esthete, I would 

n ot dream of denying the necessity of anything that is happening or of 

c omplaining that mankind does not know how to die in beauty. [. . .] Mankind 

I Consists of customers. Behind flags and flames, heroes and helpers, behind all 

fatherlands an altar has been erected at which pious science wrings its hands: 



166 The idea of the Modern World 

i 

God created the consumer! Yet God did not create the consumer that he might 
prosper on earth, for the consumer was created naked and becomes a dealer 
only when he sells clothes. The necessity to eat in order to live cannot be 
disputed philosophically, though the public nature of this function evidences an 
ineradicable lack of modesty. Culture is the tacit agreement to let the means of 
subsistence disappear behind the purpose of existence. Civilization is the sub- 
ordination of the latter to the former. [ . . . ] 



14 Kasimir Malevich (1878-1935) From Cubism and 
Futurism to Suprematism: The New Realism in 
Painting 

Malevich rapidly assimilated Western European avant-garde art in the decade before 
the First World War: Impressionism, Primitivism, Cubism, Futurism. After the severing 
of links to the West by the outbreak of war in the autumn of 1914, Malevich launched 
Suprematism at '0.10 The Last Futurist Exhibition' in Petrograd in December 1915. A 
pamphlet to accompany the exhibition was published there, with the title From Cubism 
to Suprematism in Art, to New Realism in Painting, to Absolute Creation. It was 
republished in expanded form as From Cubism and Futurism to Suprematism: The New 
Realism in Painting in Moscow in 1916. The present translation is taken from T. 
Anderson (ed.), K. S. Malevich: Essays on Art 1915-1933, vol. 1, Copenhagen, 1969. 

Only with the disappearance of a habit of mind which sees in pictures little 
corners of nature, madonnas and shameless Venuses, shall we witness a work of 
pure, living art. 

I have transformed myself in the zero of form and dragged myself out of the 

rubbish-filled pool of Academic art. 

I have destroyed the ring of the horizon and escaped from the circle of things, 
from the horizon-ring which confines the artist and the forms of nature. 

This accursed ring, which opens up newer and newer prospects, leads the 
artist away from the target of destruction. 

And only a cowardly consciousness and meagre creative powers in an artist 
are deceived by this fraud and base their art on the forms of nature, afraid of 
losing the foundation on which the savage and the academy have based their art. 

To reproduce beloved objects and little corners of nature is just like a thief 
being enraptured by his legs in irons. 

Only dull and impotent artists screen their work with sincerity. 
In art there is a need for truth, not sincerity. 

Things have disappeared like smoke; to gam the new artistic culture, art ap- 
proaches creation as an end in itself and domination over the forms of nature. 



Ha Modernity 167 

The Art of the Savage and its Principles 

The savage was the first to found the principle of naturalism: fashioning his 
drawings out of a dot and five little sticks, he tried to recreate his own image. 

This first attempt laid the basis for conscious imitation of the forms of nature. 

From this arose the aim of approaching the face of nature as closely as 
possible. 

And all the artist's efforts were directed towards the representation of her 
creative forms. 

Collective art, or the art of copying, had its origin in the tracing of the 
savage's first primitive image. 

Collective, because the real man with his subtle range of feelings, psychology 
and anatomy had not yet been discovered. 

The savage saw neither his external image, nor his inner condition. 

His consciousness could only see the shape of a man, animal, etc. 

And as his consciousness developed, so the scheme by which he depicted 
nature grew more complicated. 

The further his consciousness embraced nature, the more complicated his 
iwork became and the more his knowledge and ability increased. 

His consciousness developed only on one side, the side of nature's creation, 
and not on the side of new forms of art. 
^ Therefore his primitive pictures cannot be considered as creative work. 

The deformities in his pictures are the result of weakness on the technical 
side. 
,v Technique, like consciousness, was only on the path of its development. 

- And his pictures must not be considered as Art. 

For inability is not art. 

He merely pointed the way to art. 

Consequently, the original scheme was a framework, on which the generations 
hung newer and newer discoveries made in nature. 

And the scheme grew more complicated and achieved its flowering in the 
Ancient World and the Renaissance of art. 

The masters of these two epochs portrayed man in his complete form, both 
inner and outer. 

Man was assembled and his inner condition was expressed. 

But despite their colossal mastery, they did not complete the savage's idea: 

The reflection, as in a mirror, of nature on canvas. 

And it is a mistake to believe that their age was the brightest flowering in 
art, and that the younger generation must at all costs strive towards this ideal. 

Such a concept is false. 

It diverts young forces from the contemporary stream of life, thereby demor- 
alizing them. 

Their bodies fly in aeroplanes, but art and life are covered with the old robes 
of Neros and Titians. 



168 The Idea of the Modern World 

Thus they are unable to see the new beauty of our modern life. 
For they live by the beauty of past ages. 

So the Realists, Impressionists, Cubism, Futurism and Suprematism were not 
understood. 

These last-mentioned artists cast off the robes of the past and came out into 
contemporary life to find a new beauty. 

And I say: 

That no torture-chamber of the Academies can withstand the passage of time. 

Forms move and are born, and we make newer and newer discoveries. 

And what I reveal to you, do not conceal. 

And it is absurd to force our age into the old forms of time past. 
* * * 

In copying or tracing the forms of nature we have fed our consciousness with 
a false understanding of art. 

The work of the Primitives has been taken for creation. 

That of the Classics - also creation. [ . . . ] 

The transferring of real objects onto canvas is the art of skilful reproduction, 
and only that. 

And between the art of creating and the art of copying there is a great 
difference. [. . .] 

The artist can be a creator only when the forms in his picture have nothing 
in common with nature. 

For art is the ability to construct, not on the interrelation of form and colour, 
and not on an aesthetic basis of beauty in composition, but on the basis of weight, 
speed and the direction of movement. 

Forms must be given life and the right to individual existence. [ . . . ] 

An artist is under the obligation to be a free creator, but not a freebooter. 
An artist is given talent in order that he may give to life his share of creation 
and increase the flow of life. Only in absolute creation will he acquire his right. 

And this is possible when we free all our art from vulgar subject-matter and 
teach our consciousness to see everything in nature not as real forms and objects, 
but as material masses from which forms must be made, which have nothing 
in common with nature. 

Thus the habit of seeing Madonnas and Venuses in pictures, with fat, playful 
cupids, will disappear. 

Colour and texture in painting are ends in themselves. They are the essence 
of painting, but this essence has always been destroyed by the subject. 

And if the masters of the Renaissance had discovered the surface of painting, 
it would have been much more exalted and valuable than any Madonna or 
Giaconda. 



Ha Modernity 169 

And any carved-out pentagon or hexagon would have been a greater work of 
sculpture than the Venus de Milo or David. 

* * * 

Academic realists - they are the last descendants of the savage. 

It is they who go about in the worn-out robes of the past. 

And again, as before, some have thrown off this greasy robe. 

And given the rag-merchant from the Academy a slap in the face with their 
declaration of Futurism. 

They began with a mighty movement to beat on the consciousness, like nails 
in a stone wall. 

To pull you out of the catacombs into the speed of our time. 

I affirm that whoever has not trod the path of Futurism as the exponent of 
modern life, is condemned to crawl for ever among the ancient graves and feed 
on the crusts of the past. 

Futurism opened the 'new' in modern life: the beauty of speed. 

And through speed we move more swiftly. 

And we who only yesterday were Futurists, arrived through speed at new 
forms, at new relationships with nature and things. 

n We arrived at Suprematism, leaving Futurism as a loop-hole through which 
those left behind will pass. 

* We have abandoned Futurism; and we, the most daring, have spat on the altar 
of its art. 

I But can cowards spit on their idols. 
- Like we did yesterday!!! 

I tell you, you will not see the new beauty and the truth, until you make up 
your minds to spit. [. . .] 

We did not renounce Futurism because it was languishing, and its end was 
approaching. No. The beauty of speed which it discovered is eternal and the 
new will still be revealed to many. 

As we run to our goal through the speed of Futurism, thought moves more 
swiftly, and whoever finds himself in Futurism is nearer to this aim and further 
from the past. 

And your lack of understanding is quite natural. How can a man who always 
rides in a gig understand the experiences and impressions of one who travels 
l n an express, or flies through the air? 

The Academy is a mouldy vault, in which art flagellates itself. 

Huge wars, great inventions, conquest of the air, speed of travel, telephones, 
telegraphs, dreadnoughts - the realm of electricity. 

But our young artists paint Neros and half-naked Roman warriors. 

All honour to the Futurists, who forbade the painting of female hams, the 
Painting of portraits and guitars in moonlight. 



170 The idea of the Modern World 

They took an enormous step forward, they gave up meat and glorified the 
machine. 

But meat and the machine are the muscles of life. 
Both are the bodies in which life moves. 

Here two worlds have collided. 

The world of meat and the world of iron. 

Both forms are the organs of utilitarian reason. 

And the relationship of the artist to the forms which things take in life has 
to be explained. 

Until now the artist always pursued the thing. 

Thus the new Futurism pursues the machine of to-day's speed. 

These are both kinds of art: the old and the new, Futurism, are behind the 
running forms. 

And the question arises: will this aim in painting justify its existence? 

No! 

Because in pursuing the form of aeroplanes or automobiles, we shall always 
be anticipating new cast-off forms of technical life . . . 

And secondly: 

In pursuing the form of things, we cannot discover painting as an end in 
itself, the way to direct creation. 

Painting will remain the means of reproducing this or that condition of the 
forms of life. 

But the Futurists forbade the depiction of nakedness not for the sake of giving 
freedom to painting or words to act as ends in themselves. But because of the 
change in the technical side of life. 

The new life of iron and the machine, the roar of automobiles, the glitter of 
electric lights, the whirring of propellers, have awoken the soul, which was 
stifling in the catacombs of ancient reason and has emerged on the roads woven 
between earth and sky. 

If all artists could see the crossroads of these celestial paths, if they could 
comprehend these monstrous runways and the weaving of our bodies with the 
clouds in the sky, then they would not paint chrysanthemums. 

The dynamic of movement has directed thought to produce the dynamic of 
plastic painting. 

But the efforts of the Futurists to produce purely plastic painting as such, 
were not crowned with success. 

They could not abandon subject-matter, which would have made their task easier. 

When they had driven reason halfway off the surface of the picture (the old 
callouse of habit that sees everything naturalistically), they were able to make 
a picture of the new life, of new things, but only this. 

In the depiction of movement, the wholeness of things vanished as their 
flashing particles hid themselves among other running bodies. 



II a Modernity 171 

And in constructing the parts of the running objects, they tried to depict only 
t he impression of movement. 

But in order to depict the movement of modern life, one must operate with 
its forms. 

Which made the arrival of painting at its goal more difficult. 

But however it was done, consciously or unconsciously, for the sake of 
movement, or for the sake of depicting impressions, the wholeness of things 
was violated. 

And in this breaking-up and violation of wholeness lay the hidden meaning 
which the naturalistic aim had concealed. 

The aim underlying this destruction was not primarily that of depicting the 
movement of things, but that of their destruction for the sake of the pure essence 
of painting; that is, towards an approach to non-objective creation. [. . .] 

Having overthrown reason, the Futurists proclaimed intuition as the subcon- 
scious. 

.:• However, they created their pictures not from the subconscious forms of 
intuition, but employed the forms of utilitarian reason. [ . . . ] 

The intuitive, it seems to me, should reveal itself in forms which are 
unconscious and without response. 

i I consider that it was necessary to understand the intuitive in art as the aim 
of our selective feeling towards objects. And it followed a purely conscious path, 
decisively forcing its way through the artist. 

It appears as two levels of consciousness fighting between themselves. 

But the consciousness, accustomed to the training of utilitarian reason, could 
not accord with the sense which led to the destruction of the world of objects. 

The artist did not understand this aim, and, submitting to this sense, betrayed 
reason and disfigured the form. 

Creation by utilitarian reason has a specific purpose. 
'■'; But intuitive creation has no utilitarian purpose. Until now we have had no 
such manifestation of Intuition in art. 

In art all pictures emerge from creative forms of a utilitarian order. All the 
naturalists' pictures have the same form as in nature. 

The intuitive form should emerge from nothing. 

In the same way that Reason, which creates things for everyday life, takes 
them from nothing and perfects them. [. . .] 

The artist should now know what, and why, things happen in his pictures. 

Formerly he lived by some kind of mood. He awaited the rising of the moon, 
twilight, put green shades on his lamps, and this all attuned his mood like a violin. 

But when asked why this face was crooked, or green, he could not give an 
e *act answer. 

4 I want it so, I like it like that . . .' 

In the end this desire was ascribed to intuitive will. 



172 The Idea of the Modern World 

Consequently the intuitive feeling did not speak clearly. And in that case, i ts 
condition was not only subconscious, but totally unconscious. 

Paintings were a tangle of these concepts. The picture was half real, half 
deformed. 

Being a painter, I ought to say why in pictures people's faces are painted 
green and red. 

The picture - paint, colour - lies within our organism. Its outbursts are great 
and demanding. 

My nervous system is coloured by them. 

My brain burns with their colours. 

But colour was oppressed by common-sense, was enslaved by it. And the 
spirit of colour weakened and died out. 

But when it conquered common-sense, then the colours flowed onto the 
detested form of real things. 

The colours matured, but their form did not mature in the consciousness. 

This is why faces and bodies were red, green and blue. 

But this was the portent leading to the creation of forms in painting which 
were ends in themselves. 

Now it is necessary to give the body shape and lend it a living form in real life. 

And this will be when forms emerge from the mass of the painting; that is, 
they will arise in the same way that utilitarian forms arose. 

Such forms will not be copies of living things in life, but will themselves be 
a living thing. 

A painted surface is a real, living form. 

Intuitive feeling is now becoming conscious, no longer is it subconscious. 

Or even, rather, the other way round - it was always conscious, only the 
artist was unable to interpret its demands. 

The forms of Suprematism, the new realism in painting, are already proof of 
the construction of forms from nothing, discovered by Intuitive Reason. 

In Cubism, the attempt to disfigure the forms of reality and the breaking-up 
of objects represent the striving of the will towards the independent life of the 
forms which it has created. 

Futurist Painting 

f . . . ] The Futurists hold the dynamic of three-dimensional form to be of 
prime importance in painting. 

But in failing to destroy the world of objects, they achieve only the dynamic 
of things. 

Therefore Futurist paintings and all those of by-gone artists can be reduced 
from twenty colours to one, and not lose their impression. 

Repin's picture, Ivan the Terrible, could be devoid of colour and still give 
us the same impressions of horror as in colour. 

The subject will always kill colour and we shall not notice it. 



Ha Modernity 173 

■Then, when the faces painted green and red to a certain extent kill the subject, 
ike colour is more noticeable. And colour is that by which a painting lives: 
^hich means it is the most important. 

,And here I have arrived at pure colour forms. 

And Suprematism is the pure art of painting, whose independence cannot be 
reduced to a single colour. 

The gallop of a horse can be depicted with a pencil of one colour. 

But it is impossible to depict the movement of red, green or blue masses with 
a pencil. 

- Painters should abandon subject and objects if they wish to be pure painters. 

This demand for the dynamic of plastic painting indicates the need for the 
mass in painting to emerge from the object and arrive at the domination of 
form as an end in itself over content and things, at non-objective Suprematism 

- at the new realism in art, at absolute creation. 

Futurism approaches the dynamism of painting through the academism of 
form. 
And the path of both forces leads to Suprematism in painting. 

If we examine the art of Cubism, and ask what energy in objects roused the 
intuitive feeling to activity, we shall see that the energy in painting was 
lecbndary. 

The very object itself, together with its essence, purpose, sense, or the fullness 
of its presentation, the Cubists thought, were also unnecessary. 

Until now it seemed that the beauty of objects was preserved when they were 
transferred whole into the picture, their essence being revealed especially in the 
crudeness of the line, or in its simplification. 

But it transpired that one more situation of objects was discovered, which 
reveals to us the new beauty. 

Namely: intuitive feeling discovered in objects the energy from the dissonance 
Obtained in the collision of two opposed forms. 

Objects embody a mass of moments in time. Their forms are various, and 
consequently their depictions are various. 

All these aspects of time in things and their anatomy - the rings of a tree - 
have become more important than their essence and meaning. 

And these new situations were adopted by the Cubists as a means of 
constructing pictures. 

At the same time these means were so constructed that the unexpected collision 
°f two forms would provide a dissonance of the greatest force of tension. 

And the scale of each form is arbitrary. 

Which justifies the appearance of parts of real objects in positions not relating 
to nature. 

In achieving this new beauty, or simply energy, we have freed ourselves from 
the impression of the wholeness of objects. 

The millstone round the neck of painting is beginning to crack. 



174 The Idea of the Modern World 

An object painted according to the principle of Cubism can be considered 
finished when its dissonances are exhausted. 

Nevertheless, all forms which repeat themselves should be omitted by the 
artist as copies. 

But if the artist finds little tension in the picture, he is free to take them 
from another object. 

Consequently in Cubism the principle of the transference of objects falls down, 

A picture is made, but the object is not transferred. 

Whence this conclusion: 

If for thousands of years past the artist has tried to approach the depiction 
of an object as closely as possible, to present its essence and meaning, then in 
our era of Cubism the artist has destroyed objects together with their meaning, 
essence and purpose. 

The new picture has sprung from their fragments. 

Objects have vanished like smoke, for the sake of the new culture of art. 
* * * 

There is no more love of little corners, there is no more love for which the 
truth of art was betrayed. 

The square is not a subconscious form. It is the creation of intuitive reason. 

It is the face of the new art. 

The square is a living, royal infant. 

It is the first step of pure creation in art. Before it, there were naive 
deformities and copies of nature. 

Our world of art has become new, non-objective, pure. 

Everything has vanished, there remains a mass of material, from which the 
new forms will be built. 

In the art of Suprematism forms will live, like all living forms of nature. 

These forms announce that man has gained his equilibrium by arriving from 
a state of single reasoning at one of double reasoning. 

Utilitarian reasoning and intuitive reasoning. 

The new realism in painting is very much realism in painting, for it contains 
no realism of mountains, sky, water . , . 

Until now there was realism of objects, but not of painted units of colour, 
which are constructed so that they depend neither on form, nor on colour, nor 
on their position relative to each other. 

Each form is free and individual. 

Each form is a world. 

Any painting surface is more alive than any face from which a pair of eyes 
and a grin jut out. 

A face painted in a picture gives a pitiful parody of life, and this allusion is 
only a reminder of the living. 

But a surface lives, it has been born. The grave reminds us of a dead person, 
a picture of a living one. 

Or on the contrary, a living face, a landscape in nature, reminds us of a 
picture, i.e. of something dead. 



Ha Modernity 175 

This is why it is strange to look at a red or black painted surface. 

This is why they snigger and spit at the exhibitions of new movements. 

Art and its new aims were always a spittoon. 

gut cats grow accustomed to a place and it is difficult to train them to a new 

For such people art is absolutely unnecessary. As long as there are pictures 
f their grandmother and their favourite little corners of lilac groves. 

Everything runs from the past to the future, but everything should live by 
the present, for in the future the apple-trees will shed their blossom, 
r Tomorrow will wipe out the trace of the present, and you will not catch up 
tfith the pace of life. 

The mire of the past, like a millstone, will drag you into the slough. 

This is why I hate all those who supply you with monuments to the dead. 

The Academy and the critics are this millstone. Round your neck are the old 
realism and the movement which strives towards the reproduction of living 
nature. 

They act in the same way as in the times of the Grand Inquisition. 

Their aims are laughable, because they want at all costs to force what they 
take from nature to live on the canvas. 

At the same time as everything is running and breathing, there are their 
frozen poses in pictures. And this torture is worse than breaking on the wheel. 
Sculptured statues, inspired (which means living), stand in their tracks, posed 
in movement. 

Is this not torture? 
v Setting the soul in marble and then mocking the living. 

But your pride is an artist who knows how to torture. 

You put birds in a cage also for pleasure. 

And for the sake of knowledge you keep animals in zoological gardens. 

I am fortunate to have broken out of that torture-chamber of the Inquisition 
which is academism. 

I have arrived at the surface and can take the dimension of a living body. 

But I shall use the dimension from which I shall create the new. 

I have released all the birds from the eternal cage, and opened the gates to 
the animals in zoological gardens. 

May they tear to pieces and devour the remains of your art. 

And may the freed bear bathe his body in the ice of the frozen north and 
not languish in the aquarium of boiled water in the academic garden. 

You may delight in the composition of a painting, but surely composition is 
f he sentence of death to a figure condemned by the artist to an eternal pose. 

Your delight is the confirmation of this sentence. 

The Group of Suprematists: K. Malevteh, I. Pum, M. Men'kov, I. Klyun, K. 
fioguslavskaya, and Rozanova, has led the struggle for the freedom of objects from 
the obligations of art. 

And calls upon the Academy to renounce the inquisition of nature. 



176 The Idea of the Modern World 

The instrument of torture is idealism and the demands of aesthetic feeling. 
The idealisation of the form of man is the mortification of much living sinew. 
Aestheticism is the garbage of intuitive feeling. 
You want to see pieces of living nature on the hooks of your walls. 
Just as Nero admired the torn bodies of people and animals from the zoological 
garden. 

I say to all: reject love, reject aestheticism, reject the trunks of wisdom, f or 
in the new culture your wisdom is laughable and insignificant. 

1 have untied the knots of wisdom and set free the consciousness of colour! 

Remove from yourselves quickly the hardened skin of centuries, so that you 
may catch us up the more easily. 

I have overcome the impossible and formed gulfs with my breathing. 

You are in the nets of the horizon, like fish! 

We, Suprematists, throw open the way to you. 

Hurry! 
- For tomorrow you will not recognize us. 



1IB 

Cubism 



1 Jean Metzinger (1883-1957) 'Note on Painting 1 

The author was a Cubist painter, one of the principal organizers of the public launch of 
Cubism at the Salon des Independents in the spring of 1911. His brief essay estab- 
fshing Cubism as the decisive modern movement, and in particular Picasso and Braque 
as its leaders, had appeared in Paris the previous autumn in Pan, October-November 
1910, pp. 649-51. The present translation is taken from Edward Fry (ed.), Cubism, 
New York and London, 1966. 

Is there any of the most modern works in painting and sculpture that does not 
secretly obey the Greek rhythm? 

! Nothing, from the Primitives to Cezanne, breaks decisively with the chain of 
variations contained in the Hellenic theme. I see today the rebels of yesterday 
mechanically prostrating themselves before the bas-relief at Eleusis. Gothics, 
Romantics, Impressionists, the old measure has triumphed over your praise- 
worthy departures from rhythm; and yet your labours have not been in vain - 
they have established in us the foreknowledge of a new and different rhythm. 

For us the Greeks invented the human form; we must reinvent it for others. 

We are not concerned, here, with a partial 'movement' dealing in accepted 
freedoms (those of interpretation, transposition, etc.: half-measures!), but with 
a fundamental liberation. 

Already there are arising men of courage who know what they are doing - 
here are painters: Picasso, Braque, Delaunay, Le Fauconnier. Wholly and only 
Painters, they do not illuminate concepts in the manner of the 'nee-primitives'; 
&ey are too enlightened to believe in the stability of any system, even one 
^Ued classical art, and at the same time they recognize in the most novel of 
their own creations the triumph of desires that are centuries old. Their reason 
holds the balance between the pursuit of the transient and the mania for the 
et ernal. While condemning the absurdity of the theoreticians of 'emotion', they 
take good care not to drag painting towards purely decorative speculation. When, 
*i* order to defeat the deceptiveness of vision, they momentarily impose their 
domination on the external world, their understanding remains untouched by 
Hegelian superstition. 



178 The idea of the Modern World 



// 



is useless to paint where it is possible to describe. 



Fortified with this thought, Picasso unveils to us the very face of painting. 

Rejecting every ornamental, anecdotal or symbolic intention, he achieves a 
painterly purity hitherto unknown. I am aware of no paintings from the past, 
even the finest, that belong to painting as clearly as his. 

Picasso does not deny the object, he illuminates it with his intelligence and 
feeling. With visual perceptions he combines tactile perceptions. He tests, 
understands, organizes: the picture is not to be a transposition or a diagram, in 
it we are to contemplate the sensible and living equivalent of an idea, the total 
image. Thesis, antithesis, synthesis - the old formula undergoes an energetic 
inter-inversion of its first two terms: Picasso confesses himself a realist. Cezanne 
showed us forms living in the reality of light, Picasso brings us a material 
account of their real life in the mind - he lays out a free, mobile perspective, 
from which that ingenious mathematician Maurice Princet has deduced a whole 
geometry. 

The fine shades neutralize one another round ardent constructions. Picasso 
disdains the often brutal technique of the so-called colourists, and brings the 
seven colours back to the primordial unity of white. 

The abandonment of the burdensome inheritance of dogma; the displacing, 
again and again, of the poles of habit; the lyrical negation of axioms; the clever 
mixing, again and again, of the successive and the simultaneous: Georges Braque 
knows thoroughly the great natural laws that warrant these liberties. 

Whether it be a face or a fruit he is painting, the total image radiates in time; 
the picture is no longer a dead portion of space. A main volume is physiologically 
born of concurrent masses. And this miraculous dynamic process has a fluid 
counterpoint in a colour-scheme dependent on the ineluctable two-fold principle 
of warm and cold tones. 

Braque, joyfully fashioning new plastic signs, commits not a single fault of 
taste. Let us not be misled by the word 'new 1 ; without detracting from this 
painter's boldness in innovation, I can compare him to Chardin and Lancret: I 
can link the daring grace of his art with the genius of our race . . . 



2 Guillaume Apollinaire (1880-1918) The Cubists' 

The poet and essayist Apollinaire was one of the most influential figures in the Parisian 
avant-garde in the first two decades of the twentieth century. He was rapidly established 
both as a leading intellectual influence on, and impresario of, Cubism. This essay, whicn 
distinguishes Cubism from the Impressionist-Fauvist tradition in terms of its formal ana 
monumental qualities, appeared as part of his review of the Salon d'Automne of 191 1- 
It was originally published in Paris in L'lntransigeant, 10 October 1911. The present 
translation is taken from Breunig, op. cit. 

In a tiny room, Room 8, are the works of a few painters known by the name 
of cubists. Cubism is not, as is generally thought, the art of painting everything 
in the form of cubes. 



IIb Cubism 179 

^ In 1908, Picasso showed a few paintings in which there were some simply 

1g|jfld firmly drawn houses that gave the public the illusion of these cubes, whence 

;^e name of our youngest school of painting. This school has already aroused 

v&jssionate discussion. Cubism can in no way be considered a systematic doctrine; 

ydoes, however, constitute a school, and the painters who make up this school 

%ant t0 transform their art by returning to first principles with regard to line 

^jnd inspiration, just as the fauves - and many of the cubists were at one time 

%uves - returned to first principles with regard to color and composition. 

^However, the public, accustomed as it is to the brilliant but practically 

Armless daubs of the impressionists, refused to recognize at first glance the 

flatness of the formal conceptions of our cubists. People were shocked to see 

^contrasts between dark forms and lighted segments, because they were used to 

%eing only paintings without shadows. In the monumental appearance of 

compositions that go beyond the frivolities of contemporary art, the public has 

jefused to see what is really there: a noble and restrained art ready to undertake 

the vast subjects for which impressionism had left painters totally unprepared. 

©ibism is a necessary reaction that will give rise to great works, whether people 

$ke it or not. For is it possible, can anyone believe for an instant, that the 

Indeniable efforts of these young artists will remain sterile? I will even go 

ftirther, and without underestimating the talents of all sorts that are manifest 

it the Salon d'Automne, I will say that cubism is the most noble undertaking 

% French art today. [. . .] 



3 Guillaume Apollinaire (1880-1918) 'On the Subject 
" in Modern Painting' 

|n this essay Apollinaire defines Cubism as an austere, pure art, offering a pleasure of 
ts own as distinct from the pleasure to be derived either from nature or from depictions 
of it. He appears to view it as a step on the way to a potentially abstract art. Originaliy 
published in Les Soirees de Paris, February 1912. The present translation is taken from 
Breunig, op. cit. 

The new painters paint works that do not have a real subject, and from now 
On, the titles in catalogues will be like names that identify a man without 
describing him. 

Just as there are some very skinny people named Portly and some very 
dark-haired people named Fair. I have seen paintings entitled Solitude that show 
Several figures. 

Painters sometimes still condescend to use vaguely explanatory words such as 
Portrait, landscape, or still-life; but many young painters simply employ the 
general term painting. 

If painters still observe nature, they no longer imitate it, and they carefully 
^void the representation of natural scenes observed directly or reconstituted 
through study. Modern art rejects all the means of pleasing that were employed 
by the greatest artists of the past: the perfect representation of the human figure, 



180 The Idea of the Modern World 

voluptuous nudes, carefully finished details, etc. . . . Today's art is austere, and 
even the most prudish senator could find nothing to criticize in it. 

Indeed, it is well known that one of the reasons cubism has enjoyed such 
success in elegant society is precisely this austerity. 

Verisimilitude no longer has any importance, for the artist sacrifices everything 
to the composition of his picture. The subject no longer counts, or if it counts, 
it counts for very little. 

If the aim of painting has remained what it always was - namely, to give pleasure 
to the eye - the works of the new painters require the viewer to find in them 
a different kind of pleasure from the one he can just as easily find in the 
spectacle of nature. 

An entirely new art is thus being evolved, an art that will be to painting, as 
painting has hitherto been envisaged, what music is to literature. 

It will be pure painting, just as music is pure literature. 

In listening to a concert, the music-lover experiences a joy qualitatively 
different from that he experiences in listening to natural sounds, such as the 
murmur of a stream, the rushing of a torrent, the whistling of the wind in the 
forest, or to the harmonies of a human language founded on reason and not on 
aesthetics. 

Similarly, the new painters provide their admirers with artistic sensations due 
exclusively to the harmony of lights and shades and independent of the subject 
depicted in the picture. 

We all know the story of Apelles and Protogenes, as it is told by Pliny 

It provides an excellent illustration of aesthetic pleasure independent of the 
subject treated by the artist and resulting solely from the contrasts I have just 
mentioned. 

Apelles arrived one day on the island of Rhodes to see the works of 
Protogenes, who lived there. Protogenes was not in his studio when Apelles 
arrived. Only an old woman was there, keeping watch over a large canvas ready 
to be painted. Instead of leaving his name, Apelles drew on the canvas a line 
so fine that one could hardly imagine anything more perfect. 

On his return, Protogenes noticed the line and, recognizing the hand of 
Apelles, drew on top of it another line in a different color, even more subtle 
than the first, thus making it appear as if there were three lines on the canvas. 

Apelles returned the next day, and the subtlety of the line he drew then made 
Protogenes despair. That work was for a long time admired by connoisseurs, 
who contemplated it with as much pleasure as if, instead of some barely visible 
lines, it had contained representations of gods and goddesses. 

The young painters of the avant-garde schools, then, wish to do pure painting. 
Theirs is an entirely new plastic art. It is only at its beginnings, and is not yet 
as abstract as it would like to be. The new painters are in a sense mathematicians 
without knowing it, but they have not yet abandoned nature, and they examine 
it patiently. 

A Picasso studies an object the way a surgeon dissects a corpse. 



IIb Cubism 181 

If this art of pure painting succeeds in disengaging itself entirely from the 
traditional way of painting, the latter will not necessarily disappear. The 
development of music, after all, did not cause the disappearance of the various 
literary genres, nor did the acrid taste of tobacco replace the savor of food. 



4 Guillaume Apollinaire (1880-1918) The New 
Painting: Art Notes' 

Here Apollinaire discusses the depiction of space in Cubist painting, claiming (proble- 
matically) that it embodies contemporary ideas of a 'fourth dimension'. These were 
related to the development of non-Euclidean geometries in the late nineteenth century, 
as well as to Einstein's theory of relativity. This latter, though doubtless little understood, 
was an object of contemporary fascination, particularly to the avant-garde, in the years 
before the First World War. Apollinaire first developed this connection in a lecture 
delivered to accompany a Cubist exhibition in November 1911. Originally published in 
Les Soirees de Paris, April-May 1912. The present translation is taken from Breunig, 
op. cit. 

The new painters have been sharply criticized for their preoccupation with 
geometry. And yet, geometric figures are the essence of draftsmanship. Geo- 
metry, the science that deals with space, its measurement and relationships, has 
always been the most basic rule of painting. 

Until now, the three dimensions of Euclidean geometry sufficed to still the 
anxiety provoked in the souls of great artists by a sense of the infinite - anxiety 
that cannot be called scientific, since art and science are two separate domains. 

The new painters do not intend to become geometricians, any more than their 
predecessors did. But it may be said that geometry is to the plastic arts what 
grammar is to the art of writing. Now today's scientists have gone beyond the 
three dimensions of Euclidean geometry. Painters have, therefore, very naturally 
been led to a preoccupation with those new dimensions of space that are 
collectively designated, in the language of modern studios, by the term fourth 
dimension. 

Without entering into mathematical explanations pertaining to another field, 
and confining myself to plastic representation as I see it, I would say that in 
the plastic arts the fourth dimension is generated by the three known dimen- 
sions: it represents the immensity of space eternalized in all directions at a given 
foment. It is space itself, or the dimension of infinity; it is what gives objects 
Plasticity. It gives them their just proportion in a given work, where as in Greek 
ar t, for example, a kind of mechanical rhythm is constantly destroving propor- 
tion. 

Greek art had a purely human conception of beauty. It took man as the 
Measure of perfection. The art of the new painters takes the infinite universe 
a s its ideal, and it is to the fourth dimension alone that we owe this new measure 
°f perfection that allows the artist to give objects the proportions appropriate 
10 the degree of plasticity he wishes them to attain. [. . .] 



182 The Idea of the Modern World 

Wishing to attain the proportions of the ideal and not limiting themselves to 
humanity, the young painters offer us works that are more cerebral than sensual 
They are moving further and further away from the old art of optical illusions 
and literal proportions, in order to express the grandeur of metaphysical forms 



5 Guillaume Apollinaire (1880-1918) from The 
Cubist Painters (Chapter VII) 

Apoliinaire's book, for which his own principal title was Meditations esthetiques, com- 
prised a miscellaneous collections of writings, some dating back to 1905. In Chapter 
VII he strives, somewhat misleadingly, to disentangle four distinct tendencies within 
Cubism. He also speaks of an inner or essential reality, whose dictates Cubism obeys; 
and links the new movement to the tradition of Courbet as well as of Cezanne. Originally 
published Paris, 1912. The present extract is taken from Fry, op. cit. 

Cubism differs from the old schools of painting in that it is not an art of 
imitation, but an art of conception which tends towards creation. 

In representing conceptualized reality or creative reality, the painter can give 
the effect of three dimensions. He can to a certain extent cube. But not by 
simply rendering reality as seen, unless he indulges in trompe-VmU in fore- 
shortening, or in perspective, thus distorting the quality of the forms conceived 
or created. 

I can discriminate four tendencies in cubism. Of these, two are parallel and 
pure. 

Scientific cubism is one of the pure tendencies. It is the art of painting new 
structures out of elements borrowed not from the reality of sight, but from the 
reality of insight. All men have a sense of this interior reality. A man does not 
have to be cultivated in order to conceive, for example, of a round form. 

The geometrical aspect, which made such an impression on those who saw 
the first canvases of the scientific cubists, came from the fact that the essential 
reality was rendered with great purity, while visual accidents and anecdotes had 
been eliminated. The painters who follow this tendency are: Picasso, whose 
luminous art also belongs to the other pure tendency of cubism, Georges Braque, 
Albert Gleizes, Marie Laurencin and Juan Gris. 

Physical cubism is the art of painting new structures with elements borrowed, 
for the most part, from visual reality. This art, however, belongs in the cubist 
movement because of its constructive discipline. It has a great future as historical 
painting. Its social role is very clear, but it is not a pure art. It confuses what 
is properly the subject with images. The painter-physicist who created this trend 
is Le Fauconnier. 

Orphic cubism is the other important trend of the new school. It is the art oi 
painting new structures with elements which have not been borrowed from the 
visual sphere, but have been created entirely by the artist himself, and been 
endowed by him with fullness of reality. The works of the orphic artist must 



IIb Cubism 183 

; jmultaneously give a pure aesthetic pleasure; a structure which is self-evident; 
gpd a sublime meaning, that is, a subject. This is pure art. The light in Picasso's 
paintings is based on this conception, which Robert Delaunay is also in the 
Igocess of discovering and towards which Fernand Leger, Francis Picabia, and 
parcel Duchamp are also directing their energies. 

^Instinctive cubism is the art of painting new structures with elements which 
h$ not borrowed from visual reality, but are suggested to the artist by instinct 
and intuition; it has long tended towards orphism. The instinctive artist lacks 
lucidity and an aesthetic doctrine; instinctive cubism includes a large number 
pf artists. Born of French impressionism, this movement has now spread all 
^ver Europe. 

I^Cezanne's last paintings and his watercolours belong to cubism, but Courbet 
'j$£he father of the new painters; and Andre Derain, whom I propose to discuss 
pme other time, was the eldest of his beloved sons, for we find him at the 
beginning of the fauvist movement, which was a kind of introduction to cubism, 
^jid also at the beginning of this great subjective movement; but it would be 
|po difficult today to write discerningly of a man who so wilfully stands apart 
Upm everyone and everything. 

j;|*The modern school of painting seems to me the most audacious that has ever 
appeared. It has posed the question of what is beautiful in itself. 
It wants to visualize beauty disengaged from whatever charm man has for 

Titian, and until now, no European artist has dared attempt this. The new artists 
Remand an ideal beauty, which will be, not merely the proud expression of the 
^ecies, but the expression of the universe, in so far as it has been humanized 
♦y light. 

VjjprThe new art clothes its creations with a magnificence which surpasses anything 
flse conceived by the artists of our time. Ardent in its search for beauty, it is 
fioble and energetic, and the reality it brings us is marvellously clear. I love the 
#Tt of today because above all else I love the light; for man loves the light more 
than anything; it was he who invented fire. 



"ft Jacques Riviere (1886-1925) 'Present Tendencies in 
Painting' 

The author, a well-known critic, offered an extended and critical discussion of various 
wchnical aspects of Cubist representation: again underpinned by philosophical idealiz- 
^ on of a profound or true reality distinct from mere appearance. Ironically he concludes 
*e essay by praising more conservative Cubists while criticizing the more thorough- 
going practitioners for pushing their new principles too far. Originally published in the 
fevue d'Europe et d'Amerique, Paris, March 1912, pp. 384-406. The present extract 
^ taken from Fry, op. cit. (Ellipses are integral to the English version.) 

Mne must, I think guard against misinterpreting the uneasiness and the hesitant 
Conviction shown by the cubists. I do not see it as a sign that their vocation is 
Arbitrary, nor do I conclude from it that their inner torments are all in vain. 



184 The Idea of the Modern World 



iib Cubism 185 



On the contrary, their perplexity makes me believe that there is in their 
enterprise something greater than themselves, an overwhelmingly powerful 
necessity in the evolution of painting, a truth greater than they can see at fi rst 
sight. They are the precursors - clumsy, like all precursors - of a new art which 
is henceforth inevitable . . . 

My intention is to give the cubists a little more freedom and assurance by 
supplying them with the deep reasons for what they are doing. True, this will 
not be possible without showing them how badly they have done it so far. 

I The Present Needs of Painting 

. . . The true purpose of painting is to represent objects as they really are; that 
is to say, differently from the way we see them. It tends always to give us their 
sensible essence, their presence, this is why the image it forms does not resemble 
their appearance . . . 

Let us now try to determine more precisely what sorts of transformation the 
painter must impose on objects as he sees them in order to express them as 
they are. These transformations are both negative and positive: he must eliminate 
lighting and perspective, and he must replace them with other and more truly 
plastic values. 

Why lighting must be eliminated 

... It is the sign of a particular instant ... If, therefore, the plastic image 
is to reveal the essence and permanence of beings, it must be free of lighting 
effects . . . 

Lighting is not only a superficial mark; it has the effect of profoundly altering 
the forms themselves ... It can therefore be said that lighting prevents things 
from appearing as they are . . . Contrary to what is usually thought, sight is a 
successive sense; we have to combine many of its perceptions before we can 
know a single object well. But the painted image is fixed . . . 

What must be put in place of lighting 

He [the cubist] has renounced lighting - that is to say, the direction of the 
light ~ but not light itself. . . It is enough for him to replace a crude and unjust 
distribution of light and shade with a more subtle and more equal distribution; 
it is enough for him to divide up between all the surfaces the shade that formerly 
accumulated on some; he will use the small portion of shading allotted to each 
one by placing it against the nearest edge of some other lit surface, in order to 
mark the respective inclination and divergence of the parts of the object. 

In this way he will be able to model the object without having recourse to 
contrasts, simply by means of summits and declivities. This procedure will have 
the advantage of marking not only the separation but also the join of the planes, 
instead of a succession of bright salients and black cavities, we shall see slopes 
supported on one another in a gentle solidarity. As they will be both separate 
and united, the exigencies of multiplicity and those of unity will be satisfied * 
one and the same time. 



-In short the painter, instead of showing the object as he sees it - that is to 
W? dismembered into bright and dark surfaces - will construct it as it is - that 
'■& to say, in the form of a geometrical volume, set free from lighting effects. 
j£ place of its relief he will put its volume. 

"■■#' 
^fhy perspective must be eliminated 

fV. Perspective is as accidental a thing as lighting. It is the sign, not of a 
larticular moment in time, but of a particular position in space. It indicates 
n ot the situation of the objects, but the situation of a spectator . . . Hence, in 
flie final analysis, perspective is also the sign of an instant, of the instant when 
| certain man is at a certain point. 

[f What is more, like lighting, it alters them - it dissimulates their true form. 
%, fact, it is a law of opties - that is, a physical law . . . 

| Certainly reality shows us these objects mutilated in this way. But in reality 
§^ can change position: a step to the right and a step to the left complete our 
Jsion. The knowledge we have of an object is, as I said before, a complex sum 
Iff perceptions. The plastic image does not move: it must be complete at first 

---mtt; therefore it must renounce perspective. 

■ '0hat must be put in place of perspective 

50». The elimination of perspective leads quite naturally to this simple rule: the 
JJjpbject must always be presented from the most revealing angle . . . 
i& fit may even sometimes involve more than one viewpoint: sometimes it will 
iplay itself as it is impossible for us to see it, with one side more than we 

ever discover in it if we stayed still . . . 
Ln object can be represented in a profound and perfect way by one only of 
parts, provided this part is the node of all the others ... A house, if one looks 
H the point where two roof-planes and two walls meet, is more completely 
faown than if one saw the whole facade and nothing else . . . 
# Perspective is not the only way of expressing depth; nor, perhaps, is it the 
Jfcst way. It does not express depth in itself, directly and explicitly; it can only 
^ggest it by outlining profiles . . . 

^Fortunately depth is not pure emptiness; one can attribute a certain consist- 
ency to it, since it too is occupied - by air. The painter will therefore be able 
P° express it otherwise than by perspective - by giving it a body; not by 
^ggesting it, but by painting it as if it were a material thing. To this end he 
%! ma ^ e a ^ tne e dg es of the object into starting-points for gentle planes of 
t Jk 0W tnat w *** recede towards the more distant objects. Where one object is 
Jr -font of others, this fact will be shown by the fringes of shadow with which 
;•* contour will be edged; its form will detach itself from the others not as a 
*&ple profile on a screen, but because the strokes delimiting it will be flanges, 
,$** because from them shadows will flow towards the background, as the waters 
Jf^ river fall regularly from a dam. The depth will make its appearance as a 
ftlk^k out visible recession accompanying the objects; they will hardly appear 
on the same plane, for between them there will insinuate itself a positive 




#&lie 



186 The Idea of the Modern World 

distancing and separation produced by these small dark slopes. They will be 
distinguished from each other without needing to alter their real appearance, 
simply and solely by the sensible presence, between their images, of the intervals 
which separate them in nature. By embodying itself in shadows, space, which 
maintains their discreteness in nature, will continue to do so in the picture as well, 
This procedure will have the advantage over perspective of marking the 
connection as well as the distinction between objects; for the planes which keep 
them apart will also form a transition between them. These planes will at one 
and the same time repel and bring closer the more distant objects. 

II The Mistakes of the Cubists 

In spite of appearances, painting has not yet emerged from impressionism. AH 
art is impressionist that aims at representing, instead of the things themselves, 
the sensation we have of them; instead of reality, the image by which we become 
aware of it; instead of the object, the intermediary that brings us into relation 
with it . . . 

The cubists are destined to take up the greater part of the lesson of Cezanne; 
they are going to give back to painting its true aim, which is to reproduce, with 
asperity and with respect, objects as they are . . . 

First mistake of the cubists 

From the truth that the painter must always show enough faces of an object to 
suggest its volume, they conclude that he must show all its faces. From the 
truth that sometimes it is necessary to add to the visible faces another, which 
could not be seen except by changing one's position a little, they conclude that 
it is necessary to add all the faces one could see by moving right round the 
object and looking at it from above and below. 

The absurdity of such an inference does not need any long demonstration. 
Let us simply remark that the procedure, as understood by the cubists, arrives 
at a result that is the direct opposite of its purpose. If the painter sometimes 
shows more faces of an object than one can really see at once, this is in order 
to give its volume. But every volume is closed and implies the joining of the 
planes to each other; it consists in a certain relationship of all the faces to a 
centre. By putting all its faces side by side, the cubists give the object the 
appearance of an unfolded map and destroy its volume . , . 

Second mistake of the cubists 

From the truth that lighting and perspective, which act to subordinate the parts 
to the object and the objects to the picture, have to be eliminated, they conclude 
that all subordination must be renounced . . . They understand eliminating per- 
spective and lighting to mean sacrificing nothing as secondary; they take these two 
ideas as equivalent, as interchangeable. They thus condemn themselves never 
again to select anything from reality; and since there can be no subordination 
without selection, the elements in their pictures relapse into anarchy and form 
a mad cacophony which makes us laugh . . . 



\ Hb Cubism 187 

fltird and perhaps last mistake of the cubists 

from the truth that depth must be expressed in genuinely plastic terms - by 
Apposing it to have its own consistency - they conclude that it must be 
^presented with as much solidity as the objects themselves and by the same 
#eans. 

./, To each object they add the distance which separates it from neighbouring 
objects, in the form of planes as resistant as its own; and in this way they show 
'■jt, prolonged in all directions and armed with incomprehensible fins. The 
intervals between forms - all the empty parts of the picture, all the places in 
& occupied by nothing but air, find themselves filled up by a system of walls 
and fortifications. These are new, entirely imaginary objects, thrusting in 
between the first ones as though to wedge them tight. 

Here again the procedure renders itself useless and automatically does away 
idth the effects it aims at producing. The purpose of the painter's efforts to 
express depth is only to distinguish objects one from another, only to mark 
4eir independence in the third dimension. But if he gives to what separates 
jkem the same appearance as he gives to each of them, he ceases to represent 
fheir separation and tends, on the contrary, to confuse them, to weld them into 
&a inexplicable continuum. 

fin short, the cubists behave as if they were parodying themselves. By carrying 
ifceir newly-found principles to the point of absurdity, they deprive them of 
fwsaning. They do away with the volume of the object by their unwillingness 
^ leave out any of its elements. They do away with the individual integrity of 
^c objects in the picture by trying to keep them intact. They do away with 
?*^pth (whose function it is to distinguish one object from another) by trying 
;lei represent it solidly . . . 

fl is, indeed, impossible not to discern already in the work of some young artists 
* more intelligent and penetrating understanding of cubism. I have directed my 
criticisms here principally at Picasso, at Braque and at the group formed by 
Metzinger, Gleizes, Delaunay, Leger, Herbin, Marcel Duchamp. Le Fauconnier, 
iho was a member of it, seems to be freeing himself from it. He may become 
» fine painter. But it is chiefly towards Derain and Dufy on the one hand, and 
on the other towards La Fresnaye, de Segonzac and Fontenay, that my best 
hopes have tended, ever since Picasso, who for a moment seemed near to 
Possessing genius, strayed into occult researches where it is impossible to follow 
«hn. Lastly, I shall set apart Andre Lhote, whose recent works appear to me 
to announce, with admirable simplicity, the decisive arrival of the new painting. 



? Albert Gleizes (1881-1953) and Jean Metzinger 
(1883-1957) from Cubism 

jjkth authors were Cubist painters involved in the public launch of Cubism at the Salon 

£*s Independents in 1911. The present essay was written during the build-up to the 

fcfge Section d'Or exhibition in October 1912. Once again 'profound' and 'superficial' 



188 The Idea of the Modern World 

realisms are distinguished, and a link is traced to Courbet. The view of Cubism advanced 
here takes on a marked Nietzschean inflection in its closing passages. Originally 
published as Du Cubisme, Paris, 1912; translated into English in 1913. The present 
extracts are taken from R. L. Herbert, Modem Artists on Art, New York, 1964. 



I 

To evaluate the importance of Cubism, we must go back to Gustave Courbet. 
This master - after David and Ingres had magnificently brought to an end a 
secular idealism - instead of wasting himself in servile repetitions like Delaroche 
and the Deverias, inaugurated a yearning for realism which is felt in all modern 
work. However, he remained a slave to the worst visual conventions. Unaware 
that in order to discover one true relationship it is necessary to sacrifice a 
thousand surface appearances, he accepted without the slightest intellectual 
control everything his retina communicated. He did not suspect that the visible 
world only becomes the real world by the operation of thought, and that the 
objects which strike us with the greatest force are not always those whose 
existence is richest in plastic truths. 

Reality is deeper than academic recipes, and more complex also. Courbet was 
like one who contemplates the Ocean for the first time and who, diverted by 
the play of the waves, does not think of the depths; we can hardly blame him, 
because it is to him that we owe our present joys, so subtle and so powerful. 

Edouard Manet marks a higher stage. Ail the same, his realism is still below 
Ingres' idealism, and his Olympia is heavy next to the Odalisque. We love him 
for having transgressed the decayed rules of composition and for having 
diminished the value of anecdote to the extent of painting 'no matter what.' In 
that we recognize a precursor, we for whom the beauty of a work resides 
expressly in the work, and not in what is only its pretext. Despite many things, 
we call Manet a realist less because he represented everyday events than because 
he endowed with a radiant reality many potential qualities enclosed in the most 
ordinary objects. 

After him there was a cleavage. The yearning for realism was split into 
superficial realism and profound realism. The former belongs to the Impres- 
sionists: Monet, Sisley, etc.; the latter to Cezanne. 

The art of the Impressionists involves an absurdity: by diversity of color it 
tries to create life, yet its drawing is feeble and worthless. A dress shimmers, 
marvelous; forms disappear, atrophied. Here, even more than with Courbet, the 
retina predominates over the brain; they were aware of this and, to justify 
themselves, gave credit to the incompatibility of the intellectual faculties and 
artistic feeling. 

However, no energy can thwart the general impulse from which it stems. We 
will stop short of considering Impressionism a false start. Imitation is the only 
error possible in art; it attacks the law of time, which is Law. Merely by the 
freedom with which they let the technique appear, or showed the constituent 
elements of a hue, Monet and his disciples helped widen the horizon. They 
never tried to make Painting decorative, symbolic, moral, etc. If they were not 



iib Cubism 189 

great painters, they were painters, and that is enough for us to venerate them. 

People have tried to make Cezanne into a sort of genius manque: they say 
that he knew admirable things but that he stuttered instead of singing out. The 
truth is that he was in bad company. Cezanne is one of the greatest of those 
who orient history, and it is inappropriate to compare him to Van Gogh or 
Gauguin. He recalls Rembrandt. Like the author of the Pilgrims of Emmaus, 
disregarding idle chatter, he plumbed reality with a stubborn eye and, if he did 
not himself reach those regions where profound realism merges insensibly into 
luminous spirituality, at least he dedicated himself to whoever really wants to 
attain a simple, yet prodigious method. 

He teaches us how to dominate universal dynamism. He reveals to us the 
modifications that supposedly inanimate objects impose on one another. From 
him we learn that to change a body's coloration is to corrupt its structure. He 
prophesies that the study of primordial volumes will open up unheard-of 
horizons. His work, an homogeneous block, stirs under our glance; it contracts, 
withdraws, melts, or illuminates itself and proves beyond all doubt that painting 
is not - or is no longer - the art of imitating an object by means of lines and 
colors, but the art of giving to our instinct a plastic consciousness. 

He who understands Cezanne, is close to Cubism. From now on we are 
justified in saying that between this school and the previous manifestations there 
is only a difference of intensity, and that in order to assure ourselves of the 
fact we need only attentively regard the process of this realism which, departing 
from Courbet's superficial realism, plunges with Cezanne into profound reality, 
growing luminous as it forces the unknowable to retreat. 

* * * 

At this point we should like to destroy a widespread misapprehension to which 
we have already made allusion. Many consider that decorative preoccupations 
must govern the spirit of the new painters. Undoubtedly they are ignorant of 
the most obvious signs which make decorative work the antithesis of the picture. 
The decorative work of art exists only by virtue of its destination', it is animated 
only by the relations established between it and the given objects. Essentially 
dependent, necessarily incomplete, it must in the first place satisfy the mind so as 
not to distract it from the display which justifies and completes it. It is an organ. 

A painting carries within itself its raison d'etre. You may take it with impunity 
from a church to a drawing-room, from a museum to a study. Essentially 
independent, necessarily complete, it need not immediately satisfy the mind: on 
the contrary, it should lead it, little by little, toward the imaginative depths where 
burns the light of organization. It does not harmonize with this or that ensemble, 
*t harmonizes with the totality of things, with the universe: it is an organism. 

* * * 

II 

Dissociating, for convenience, things that we know to be indissolubly united, 
let us study, by means of form and color, the integration of the plastic 
consciousness. 



190 The Idea of the Modern World 

To discern a form implies, besides the visual function and the faculty f 
moving oneself, a certain development of the mind; to the eyes of most people 
the external world is amorphous. 

To discern a form is to verify it by a pre-existing idea, an act that no one, 
save the man we call an artist, can accomplish without external assistance. 

Before a natural spectacle, the child, in order to coordinate his sensations and 
to subject them to mental control, compares them with his picture-book; culture 
intervening, the adult refers himself to works of art. 

The artist, having discerned a form which presents a certain intensity of 
analogy with his pre-existing idea, prefers it to other forms, and consequently 
- for we like to force our preferences on others - he endeavors to enclose the 
quality of this form (the unmeasurable sum of the affinities perceived between 
the visible manifestation and the tendency of his mind) in a symbol likely to 
affect others. When he succeeds he forces the crowd, confronted by his 
integrated plastic consciousness, to adopt the same relationship he established 
with nature. But while the painter, eager to create, rejects the natural image as 
soon as he has made use of it, the crowd long remains the slave of the painted 
image, and persists in seeing the world only through the adopted sign. That is 
why any new form seems monstrous, and why the most slavish imitations are 
admired. 
* * * 

To whom shall we impute the misapprehension? To the painters who disregard 
their rights. When from any spectacle they have separated the features which 
summarize it, they believe themselves constrained to observe an accuracy which 
is truly superfluous. Let us remind them that we visit an exhibition to 
contemplate painting and to enjoy it, not to enlarge our knowledge of geography, 
anatomy, etc. 

Let the picture imitate nothing and let it present nakedly its raison d'etrel 
Then we should indeed be ungrateful were we to deplore the absence of all 
those things - flowers, or landscape, or faces - whose mere reflection it might 
have been. Nevertheless, let us admit that the reminiscence of natural forms 
cannot be absolutely banished; as yet, at all events. An art cannot be raised all 
at once to the level of a pure effusion. 

This is understood by the Cubist painters, who tirelessly study pictorial form 
and the space which it engenders. 

This space we have negligently confused with pure visual space or with 
Euclidean space. 

Euclid, in one of his postulates, speaks of the indeformability of figures in 
movement, so we need not insist upon this point. 

If we wished to tie the painter's space to a particular geometry, we should 
have to refer it to the non-Euclidean scientists; we should have to study, at 
some length, certain of Riemann's theorems. 

As for visual space, we know that it results from the harmony of the sensations 
of convergence and accommodation of the eye. 

For the picture, a flat surface, the accommodation is negative. Therefore the 
convergence which perspective teaches us to simulate cannot evoke the idea ot 



Hb Cubism 191 

depth- Moreover, we know that the most serious infractions of the rules of 
perspective will by no means compromise the spatiality of a painting. Do not 
the Chinese painters evoke space, despite their strong partiality for divergence} 

To establish pictorial space, we must have recourse to tactile and motor 
sensations, indeed to all our faculties. It is our whole personality which, 
contracting or expanding, transforms the plane of the picture. As it reacts, this 
plane reflects the personality back upon the understanding of {he spectator, 
gild thus pictorial space is defined: a sensitive passage between two subjective 
spaces. 

■.r The forms which are situated within this space spring from a dynamism which 
ire profess to dominate. In order that our intelligence may possess it, let us 
first exercise our sensitivity. There are only nuances. Form appears endowed 
with properties identical to those of color. It is tempered or augmented by 
contact with another form, it is destroyed or it flowers, it is multiplied or it 
disappears. An ellipse may change its circumference because it is inscribed in 
a polygon. A form more emphatic than those which surround it may govern 
the whole picture, may imprint its own effigy upon everything. Those picture- 
makers who minutely imitate one or two leaves in order that all the leaves of 
a J tree may seem to be painted, show in a clumsy fashion that they suspect this 
fruth. An illusion, perhaps, but we must take it into account. The eye quickly 
interests the mind in its errors. These analogies and contrasts are capable of all 
food and all evil; the masters felt this when they strove to compose with 
{pyramids, crosses, circles, semicircles, etc. 

: '*> To compose, to construct, to design, reduces itself to this: to determine by 
etir own activity the dynamism of form. 

< ; Some, and they are not the least intelligent, see the aim of our technique in 
Ihe exclusive study of volumes. If they were to add that because surfaces are 
Itie limits of volumes, and lines those of surfaces, it suffices to imitate a contour 
in order to represent a volume, we might agree with them; but they are thinking 
only of the sensation of relief, which we consider insufficient. We are neither 
geometers nor sculptors; for us, lines, surfaces, and volumes are only nuances 
Of the notion of fullness. To imitate only volumes would /be to deny these 
ftuances for the benefit of a monotonous intensity. We might as well renounce 
at once our vow of variety. 

1 Between sculpturally bold reliefs, let us throw slender shafts which do not 
define, but which suggest. Certain forms must remain implicit, so that the mind 
f the spectator is the chosen place of their concrete birth. 
;* Let us also contrive to cut by large restful surfaces any area where activity 
*& exaggerated by excessive contiguities. 

In short, the science of design consists in instituting relations between straight 
nnes and curves. A picture which contained only straight lines or curves would 
ftot express existence. 

It would be the same with a painting in which curves and straight lines exactly 
Compensated one another, for exact equivalence is equal to zero. 
g The diversity of the relations of line to line must be indefinite; on this 
Condition it incorporates quality, the unmeasurable sum of the affinities 



192 The Idea of the Modern World 

perceived between that which we discern and that which already existed within 
us; on this condition a work of art moves us. 

What the curve is to the straight line, the cold tone is to the warm in the 
domain of color. 



Ill 

After the Impressionists had burned up the last Romantic bitumens, some 
believed in a renaissance, or at least the advent of a new art: the art of color. 
Some were delirious. They would have given the Louvre and all the museums 
of the world for a scrap of cardboard spotted with hazy pink and apple-green. 
We are not jesting. To these excesses we owe the experience of a bold and 
necessary experiment, 

Seurat and Signac thought of schematizing the palette and, boldly breaking 
with an age-long habit of the eye, established optical mixture. 

Noble works of art, by Seurat as well as by Signac, Cross, and certain others, 
testify to the fertility of the Neo-Impressionist method; but it appears contest- 
able as soon as we cease to regard it on the plane of superficial realism. 

Endeavoring to assimilate the colors of the palette with those of the prism, 
it is based on the exclusive use of pure elements. Now the colors of the prism 
are homogeneous, while those of the palette, being heterogeneous, can furnish 
pure elements only insofar as we accept the idea of a relative purity. 

Suppose this were possible. A thousand little touches of pure color break 
down white light, and the resultant synthesis should take place in the eye 
of the spectator. They are so disposed that they are not reciprocally annihi- 
lated by the optical fusion of the complementaries; for, outside the prism, 
whether we form an optical mixture or a mixture on the palette, the result 
of the sum of complementaries is a troubled grey, not a luminous white. 

* * * 

It was then that the Cubists taught a new way of imagining light. 

According to them, to illuminate is to reveal; to color is to specify the mode 
of revelation. They call luminous that which strikes the mind, and dark that 
which the mind has to penetrate. 

We do not automatically associate the sensation of white with the idea of 
light, any more than black with the idea of darkness. We admit that a black 
jewel, even if of a matte black, may be more luminous than the white or pink 
satin of its case. Loving light, we refuse to measure it, and we avoid the 
geometric ideas of focus and ray, which imply the repetition - contrary to the 
principle of variety which guides us - of light planes and dark intervals in a 
given direction. Loving color, we refuse to limit it, and sober or dazzling, fresh 
or muddy, we accept all the possibilities contained between the two extreme 
points of the spectrum, between the cold and the warm tone. 

Here are a thousand tints which escape from the prism, and hasten to range 
themselves in the lucid region forbidden to those who are blinded by the 
immediate. 



r 



IIb Cubism 193 



IV 

If we consider only the bare fact of painting, we attain a common ground of 
understanding. 

Who will deny that this fact consists in dividing the surface of the canvas 
and investing each part with a quality which must not be excluded by the nature 
of the whole? 

Taste immediately dictates a rule: we must paint so that no two portions of 
the same extent ever meet in the picture. Common sense approves and explains: 
let one portion repeat another, and the whole becomes measurable. The art 
which ceases to be a fixation of our personality (unmeasurable, in which nothing 
is ever repeated), fails to do what we expect of it. 

The inequality of parts being granted as a prime condition, there are two 
methods of regarding the division of the canvas. According to the first, all the 
parts are connected by a rhythmic artifice which is determined by one of them. 
This one - its position on the canvas matters little - gives the painting a center 
from which or toward which the gradations of color tend, according as the 
maximum or minimum of intensity resides there. 

According to the second, in order that the spectator ready to establish unity 
himself may apprehend all the elements in the order assigned to them by creative 
intuition, the properties of each portion must be left independent, and the plastic 
continuity must be broken into a thousand surprises of light and shade. 

Hence we have two methods apparently inimical. 

However little we know of the history of art, we can readily find names which 
illustrate each. The interesting point is to reconcile them. 

The Cubist painters endeavour to do so, and whether they partially interrupt 
the ties demanded by the first method or confine one of those forces which the 
second insists should be freely allowed to flash out, they achieve that superior 
disequilibrium without which we cannot conceive lyricism. 

Both methods are based on the kinship of color and form. 

Although of a hundred thousand living painters only four or five appear to 
perceive it, a law here asserts itself which is to be neither discussed nor 
interpreted, but rigorously followed: 

Every inflection of form is accompanied by a modification of color, and every 
Modification of color gives birth to a form. 

There are tints which refuse to wed certain lines; there are surfaces which 
cannot support certain colors, repelling them to a distance or sinking under 
them as under too heavy a weight. 

To simple forms the fundamental hues of the spectrum are allied, and 
fragmentary forms should assume sparkling colors. 
* * * 

There is nothing real outside ourselves, there is nothing real except the 
coincidence of a sensation and an individual mental direction. Far from us any 
thought of doubting the existence of the objects which strike our senses; but, 
<>emg reasonable, we can only have certitude with regard to the images which 
they make blossom in our mind. 



194 The Idea of the Modern World 

It therefore amazes us that well-meaning critics explain the remarkable 
difference between the forms attributed to nature and those of modern painting, 
by a desire to represent things not as they appear, but as they are. And how 
are they? According to them, the object possesses an absolute form, an essential 
form, and, in order to uncover it, we should suppress chiaroscuro and traditional 
perspective. What naivete! An object has not one absolute form, it has several; 
it has as many as there are planes in the domain of meaning. The one which 
these writers point to is miraculously adapted to geometric form. Geometry j s 
a science, painting is an art. The geometer measures, the painter savors. The 
absolute of the one is necessarily the relative of the other; if logic is alarmed 
at this, so much the worse! Will it ever prevent a wine from being different in 
the retort of the chemist and in the glass of the drinker? 

We are frankly amused to think that many a novice may perhaps pay for his 
too literal comprehension of Cubist theory, and his faith in absolute truth, by 
arduously juxtaposing the six faces of a cube or the two ears of a model seen 
in profile. 

Does it ensue from this that we should follow the example of the Impress- 
ionists and rely upon the senses alone? By no means. We seek the essential, but 
we seek it in our personality, and not in a sort of eternity, laboriously fitted 
out by mathematicians and philosophers. 
* * * 

[. . .] We reject not only synchronistic and primary images, but also fanciful 
occultism, an easy way out; if we condemn the exclusive use of common signs 
it is not at all because we think of replacing them by cabalistic ones. We will 
even willingly confess that it is impossible to write without using cliches, and 
to paint while disregarding familiar signs completely. It is up to each one to 
decide whether he should disseminate them throughout his work, mix them 
intimately with personal signs, or boldly plaster them, magical dissonances, 
tatters of the great collective lie, on a single point of the plane of higher reality 
which he sets aside for his art. A true painter takes into account all the elements 
which experience reveals to him, even if they are neutral or vulgar. A simple 
question of tact. 

But objective or conventional reality, this world intermediate between an- 
other's consciousness and our own, never ceases to fluctuate according to the 
will of race, religion, scientific theory, etc., although humanity has labored from 
time immemorial to hold it fast. Into the occasional gaps in the cycle, we can 
insert our personal discoveries and contribute surprising exceptions to the norm. 



V 

To carry out a work of art it is not enough to know the relations of color and 
form and to apply the laws that govern them; the artist must also contrive to 
free himself from the servitude inherent in such a task. Any painter of health) 
sensitivity and sufficient intelligence can provide us with well-painted pictures, 
but only he can awaken beauty who is designated by Taste. We call thus the 



IIb Cubism 195 

laculty thanks to which we become conscious of Quality, and we reject the 
notions of good taste and bad taste which correspond with nothing positive: a 
faculty is neither good nor bad, it is simply more or less developed. 
. We attribute a rudimentary taste to the savage who is delighted by glass beads, 
pU t we might with infinitely greater justice consider as a savage the so-called 
civilized man who, for example, can appreciate nothing but Italian painting or 
Louis XV furniture. Taste is valued according to the number of qualities it 
allows us to perceive; yet when this number exceeds a certain figure it diminishes 
in intensity and evaporates into eclecticism. Taste is innate; but like sensitivity, 
which enhances it, it is tributary to the will. Many deny this. What is more 
obvious, however, than the influence of the will on our senses? [. . .] 

m* * 

y; The will exerted on taste with a view to a qualitative possession of the world 

derives its merit from the subjugation of every conquest to the nature of the 
chosen material. 

i. Without using any allegorical or symbolic literary artifice, but with only 
iHiflections of lines and colors, a painter can show in the same picture both a 
Chinese and a French city, together with the mountains, oceans, flora and fauna, 
peoples with their histories and their desires, everything which in exterior reality 
separates them. Distance or time, concrete thing or pure conception, nothing 
refuses to be said in the painter's tongue, any more than in that of the poet, 
the musician, or the scientist. 

;te :* * 

fe That the ultimate end of painting is to reach the masses, we have agreed; it 
■■tiki however, not in the language of the masses that painting should address the 
passes, but in its own, in order to move, to dominate, to direct, and not in 
fcrder to be understood. It is the same with religions and philosophies. The 
Artist who abstains from any concessions, who does not explain himself and who 
tells nothing, builds up an internal strength whose radiance shines all around. 

It is in consummating ourselves within ourselves that we shall purify humanity, 
it is by increasing our own riches that we shall enrich others, it is by setting 
fire to the heart of the star for our intimate joy that we shall exalt the universe. 

To sum up, Cubism, which has been accused of being a system, condemns 
all systems. 

The technical simplifications which have provoked such accusations denote a 
legitimate anxiety to eliminate everything that does not exactly correspond to 
the conditions of the plastic material, a noble vow of purity. Let us grant that 
!t is a method, but let us not permit the confusion of method with system. 

For the partial liberties conquered by Courbet, Manet, Cezanne, and the 
■Impressionists, Cubism substitutes an indefinite liberty. 

Henceforth objective knowledge at last regarded as chimerical, and all that 
■*ne crowd understands by natural form proven to be convention, the painter 
^ill know no other laws than those of Taste. 

> From then on, by the study of all the manifestations of physical and mental 
We, he will learn to apply them. But if all the same he ventures into metaphysics, 
Cosmogony, or mathematics, let him be content with obtaining their savor, and 



W- 



196 The Idea of the Modern World 

abstain from demanding of them certitudes which they do not possess. In their 
depths one finds nothing but love and desire. 

A realist, he will fashion the real in the image of his mind, for there is only 
one truth, ours, when we impose it on everyone. And it is the faith in Beauty 
which provides the necessary strength. 



8 Fernand Leger (1881-1955) 'The Origins of 
Painting and its Representational Value' 

Leger formulates a claim that Cubism embodies a 'realism of conception' in respect of the 
relations and contrasts drawn between pictorial elements themselves. In its specialization 
and internal fragmentation such an art will be an expression of modern life. Originally 
published in Montjoie, Paris, 1913. The present extract is taken from Leger, op. cit. 

Without claiming to explain the aim or the means of an art that is already at 
a fairly advanced stage of development, I am going to attempt, as far as it is 
possible, to answer one of the questions most often asked about modern pictures. 
I put this question in its simplest form: 'What does that represent?' I will 
concentrate on this simple question and, with a brief explanation, will try to 
prove its utter inanity. 

If, in the field of painting, imitation of an object had value in itself, any 
picture by anyone at all that had any imitative character would have pictorial 
value. As I do not think it is necessary to insist upon this point or to discuss 
such an example, I now assert something that has been said before but that 
needs to be said again here: the realistic value of a work of art is completely 
independent of any imitative character. 

This truth should be accepted as dogma and made axiomatic in the general 
understanding of painting. 

I am using the word 'realistic' intentionally in its most literal sense, for the 
quality of a pictorial work is in direct proportion to its quantity of realism. 

In painting, what constitutes what we call realism? 

Definitions are always dangerous, for in order to capture a complete concept 
in a few words, it is necessary to make a concession, which often sacrifices 
clarity or is too simplistic. 

In spite of everything I will risk a definition and say that, in my view, pictorial 
realism is the simultaneous ordering of three great plastic components: Lines, 
Forms, and Colors. 

No work can lay claim to pure classicism, that is, to a lasting qualit) 
independent of the period of its creation, if one of those components is 
completely sacrificed to the detriment of the other two. f . . . ] 

I repeat: every epoch has produced such works, which, despite all the talent 
they involve, remain simply period pieces. They become dated; they ma} 
astonish or intrigue present generations, but since they do not have the 
components needed to attain to pure realism, they must finally disappear. For 
most of the painters who preceded the impressionists, the three indispensable 



IIb Cubism 197 

components that I mentioned earlier were closely linked to the imitation of a 
subject that contained an absolute value in itself. [ . . . ] 

The impressionists were the first to reject the absolute value of the subject and 
10 consider its value to be merely relative. 

That is the tie that links and explains the entire modern evolution. The 
impressionists are tne great originators of the present movement; they are its 
primitives in the sense that, wishing to free themselves from the imitative aspect, 
they considered painting for its color only, neglecting all form and all line almost 
entirely. 

The admirable work resulting from this conception necessitates comprehension 
of a new kind of color. Their quest for real atmosphere even then treated the 
subject as relative: trees, houses merge and are closely interconnected, enveloped 
jn a colored dynamism that their methods did not yet allow them to develop. 

The imitation of the subject that their work still involves is thus, even then, 
no more than a pretext for variety, a theme and nothing more. For the 
impressionists a green apple on a red rug is no longer the relationship between 
two objects, but the relationship between two tones, a green and a red. 

When this truth became formulated in living works, the present movement 
was inevitable. I particularly stress this epoch of French painting, for I think 
it is at this precise moment that the two great pictorial concepts, visual realism 
and realism of conception, meet - the first completing its ascent, which includes 
mB traditional painting down to the impressionists, and the second, realism of 
conception, beginning with them. 

-.-si- The first, as I have said, demands an object, a subject, devices of perspective 
that are now considered negative and antirealistic. 

ft The second, dispensing with all this cumbersome baggage, has already been 
achieved in many contemporary pictures. 

One painter among the impressionists, Cezanne, understood everything that 
was incomplete in traditional painting. He felt the necessity for a new form and 
draftsmanship closely linked to the new color. All his life and all his work were 
spent in this search. 
* * * 

In the history of modern painting Cezanne will occupy the place that Manet 
held some years before him. Both were transitional painters. 

Manet, through his investigations and his own sensibility, gradually abandoned 
*he methods of his predecessors to arrive at impressionism, and he is unques- 
tionably its great creator. 

The more one examines the work of these two painters, the more one is struck 
ty the historical analogy between them. 

Manet was inspired by the Spanish, by Velasquez, by Goya, by the most 
luminous works, to arrive at new forms. 

Cezanne finds a color and, unlike Manet, struggles in the pursuit of a structure 
ai *d form that Manet has destroyed and that he feels is absolutely necessary to 
express the great reality. 

"All the great movements in painting, whatever their direction, have always 
Proceeded by revolution, by reaction, and not by evolution. 



198 The Idea of the Modern World 

The relationships among volumes, lines, and colors will prove to be the 
springboard for all the work of recent years and for all the influence exerted 
on artistic circles both in France and abroad. 

From now on, everything can converge toward an intense realism obtained 
by purely dynamic means. 

Pictorial contrasts used in their purest sense (complementary colors, lines, 
and forms) are henceforth the structural basis of modern pictures. 

# # # 

Many people are patiently awaiting the end of what they call a phase in the 
history of art; they are waiting for something else, and they think that modern 
painting is passing through a stage, a necessary one perhaps, but that it will 
return to what is commonly called 'painting for everyone. ' 

This is a very great mistake. When an art like this is in possession of all its 
means, which enable it to achieve absolutely complete works, it is bound to be 
dominant for a very long time. 

I am convinced that we are approaching a conception of art as comprehensive 
as those of the greatest epochs of the past; the same tendency to large scale, 
the same collective effort. [. . .] 

* * * 

For painters, living like everyone else in an age neither more nor less 
intellectual than preceding ones, merely different, in order to impose a similar 
way of seeing and to destroy everything that perspective and sentimentalism 
had helped to erect, it was necessary to have something else besides their 
audacity and their individual conception. 

If the age had not lent itself to this - I repeat, if their art had not had an 
affinity with its own time and had not been an evolution deriving from past 
epochs - it would not have been able to survive. 

Present-day life, more fragmented and faster moving than life in previous 
eras, has had to accept as its means of expression an art of dynamic division- 
ism; and the sentimental side, the expression of the subject (in the sense 
of popular expression), has reached a critical moment that must be clearly 
defined. 

In order to find a comparable period, I will go back to the fifteenth century, 
the time of the culmination and decline of the Gothic style. During this entire 
period, architecture was the great means of popular expression: the basic 
structure of cathedrals had been embellished with every lifelike ornament that 
the French imagination could discover and invent. 

But the invention of printing was bound to revolutionize and change totall} 
these means of expression. [. . .] 

Without attempting to compare the present evolution, with its scientific 
inventions, to the revolution brought about at the end of the Middle Ages b> 
Gutenberg's invention, in the realm "of humanity's means of expression, 
maintain that modern mechanical achievements such as color photography, the 
motion-picture camera, the profusion of more or less popular novels, and the 
popularization of the theaters have effectively replaced and henceforth rendere 



Hb Cubism 199 

superfluous the development of visual, sentimental, representational, and popular 
subject matter in pictorial art. 

I earnestly ask myself how all those more or less historical or dramatic pictures 
shown in the French Salon can compete with the screen of any cinema. Visual 
realism has never before been so intensely captured. 

Several years ago one could still argue that at least moving pictures lacked 
color, but color photography has been invented. 'Subject' paintings no longer 
have even this advantage; their popular side, their only reason for existence, has 
disappeared, and the few workers who used to be seen in museums, planted in 
front of a cavalry charge by M. Detaille or a historical scene by M. J. -P. Laurens, 
are no longer there: they are at the cinema. 

The average bourgeois also - the small merchant who fifty years ago enabled 
these minor local and provincial masters to make a living - now has completely 
dispensed with their services. 

Photography requires fewer sittings than portrait painting, captures a likeness 
more faithfully, and costs less. The portrait painter is dying out, and the genre 
and historial painters will die out too - not by a natural death but killed off 
by their period. 

This will have killed that. 
V Since the means of expression have multiplied, plastic art must logically limit 
itself to its own purpose: realism of conception. (This was born with Manet, 
developed by the impressionists and Cezanne, and is achieving wide acceptance 
among contemporary painters.) 

■■'}- Architecture itself, stripped of all its representational trimmings, is approach- 
ing a modern and utilitarian conception after several centuries of false tradi- 
tionalism . 

s Architectural art is confining itself to its own means - the relationship between 
lines and the balance of large masses; the decorative element itself is becoming 
plastic and architectural. 

Each art is isolating itself and limiting itself to its own domain. 

Specialization is a modern characteristic, and pictorial art, like all other mani- 
festations of human genius, must submit to its law; it is logical, for by limiting 
each discipline to its own purpose, it enables achievements to be intensified. 

In this way pictorial art gains in realism. The modern conception is not simply 
* passing abstraction, valid only for a few initiates; it is the total expression of 
a new generation whose needs it shares and whose aspirations it answers. 



9 Olga Rozanova (1886-1916) 'The Bases of the New 
Creation' 

Kozanova was one of a number of women artists prominent in the Russian avant-garde, 

and was active in a succession of groups from 1911 onwards. The present essay, her 

l^ajor statement on the new art, was published in the third issue of the journal of the 

^nion of Youth group in St Petersburg in 1913. The present extract is taken from John 

oowlt, Russian Art of the Avant Garde, London, 1976 and 1988. 



200 The Idea of the Modern World 

The art of Painting is the decomposition of nature's ready-made images into 
the distinctive properties of the common material found within them and the 
creation of different images by means of the interrelation of these properties; 
this interrelation is established by the Creator's individual attitude. The artist 
determines these properties by his visual faculty. The world is a piece of raw 
material - for the unreceptive soul it is the back of a mirror, but for reflective 
souls it is a mirror of images appearing continually. 

How does the world reveal itself to us? How does our soul reflect the world? 
In order to reflect, it is necessary to perceive. In order to perceive, it is necessary 
to touch, to see. Only the Intuitive Principle introduces us to the World. 

And only the Abstract Principle - Calculation - as the consequence of the 
active aspiration to express the world, can build a Picture. 

This establishes the following order in the process of creation: 

1 Intuitive Principle 

2 Individual transformation of the visible 

3 Abstract creation 

The fascination of the visible, the charm of the spectacle, arrests the eye, and 
the artist's primary aspiration to create arises from this confrontation with 
nature. The desire to penetrate the World and, in reflecting it, to reflect oneself 
is an intuitive impulse that selects the Subject - this word being understood in 
its purely painterly meaning. 

In this way, nature is a 'Subject' as much as any subject set for painting in 
abstracto and is the point of departure, the seed, from which a Work of Art 
develops; the intuitive impulse in the process of creation is the first psychological 
stage in this development. How does the artist use the phenomena of nature, 
and how does he transform the visible World on the basis of his relationship 
with it? 

A rearing horse, motionless cliffs, a delicate flower, are equally beautiful if 
they can express themselves in equal degree. 

But what can the artist express if he repeats them? 

At best, an unconscious plagiarism of nature, for which the artist, not knowing 
his own objectives, could be forgiven; at worst, a plagiarism in the literal sense 
of the word, when people would refuse to reject it merely out of creative 
impotence. 

- Because the artist must be not a passive imitator of nature, but an active 
spokesman of his relationship with her. Hence the question arises: to what extent 
and to what degree should nature's influence on the artist be expressed? 

A servile repetition of nature's models can never express all her fullness. 

It is time, at long last, to acknowledge this and to declare frankly, once and 
for all, that other ways, other methods of expressing the World are needed. 

The photographer and the servile artist, in depicting nature's images, will 
repeat them. 

The artist of artistic individuality, in depicting them, will reflect himself. 

He will reveal the properties of the World and erect from them a New World 
- the World of the Picture, and by renouncing repetition of the visible, he will 



Hb Cubism 201 

inevitably create different images; in turning to their practical realization on the 
canvas, he will be forced to reckon with them. 

The Intuitive Principle, as an extrinsic stimulus to creation, and individual 
transformation - the second stage in the creative process - have played their 
role in advancing the meaning of the abstract. 

The abstract embraces the conception of creative Calculation, and of expedient 
relations to the painterly task. It has played an essential role in the New Art 
I by indissolubly combining the conception of artistic means and the conception 
of artistic ends. Modern art is no longer a copy of concrete objects; it has set 
itself on a different plane, it has upturned completely the conception of Art 
(hat existed hitherto. 

The artist of the Past, riveted to nature, forgot about the picture as an important 
phenomenon, and as a result, it became merely a pale reminder of what he saw, a 
boring assemblage of ready-made, indivisible images of nature, the fruit of logic 
with its immutable, nonaesthetic characteristics. Nature enslaved the artist. 

And if in olden times, the individual transformation of nature found occasional 
expression when the artist changed it according to his individual conception 
(the works of archaic eras, of infant nations, the primitives), it was, nevertheless, 
an example of an unrealized property, attempts at free speech, and more often 
than not, the ready-made images triumphed as a result. 

Only now does the artist create a Picture quite consciously not only by not 
Copying nature, but also by subordinating the primitive conception of it to 
conceptions complicated by all the psychology of modern creative thought: what 
the artist sees + what he knows + what he remembers, etc. In putting paint 
onto canvas, he further subjects the result of this consciousness to a constructive 
processing that, strictly speaking, is the most important thing in Art - and the 
very conception of the Picture and of its self-sufficient value can arise only on 
this condition. 

In an ideal state of affairs the artist passes spontaneously from one creative 
state to another, and the Principles - the Intuitive, the Individual, the Abstract 
- are united organically, not mechanically. I do not intend to analyze the 
individual trends of modern art but wish merely to determine the general 
character of the New creative World View. I shall touch on these trends only 
to the extent that they are the consequence of this New creative psychology 
and evoke this or that attitude in the public and critics nurtured on the 
Psychology of the old conception of art. To begin with, the art of our time will 
be fatally incomprehensible to such people unless they make the effort to accept 
the required viewpoint. 

For the majority of the public nurtured by pseudo artists on copies of nature, 
the conception of beauty rests on the terms 'Familiar' and 'Intelligible.' So when 
*n art created on new principles forces the public to awaken from its stagnant, 
sleepy attitudes crystallized once and for all, the transition to a different state 
incites protest and hostility since the public is unprepared for it. 
*■ * * 

Every new epoch in art differs from the preceding one in that it introduces 
*fiany new artistic theses into its previously cultivated experience, and in 



202 The Idea of the Modern World 

following the path of this development, it works out a new code of artistic 
formulas. But in the course of time, creative energy begins inevitably to slacken. 

New formulas cannot be cultivated - on the contrary, those cultivated 
previously develop artistic technique to an extraordinary level of refinement and 
reduce it to prestidigitation of the paintbrush; the extreme expression of this is 
a crystallization into the conditioned repetition of ready-made forms. And in 
this soil the putrid flowers of imitation thrive. Without going into the depths 
of art history, we can cite examples of imitation from the not too distant past 
(it, too, has grown obsolete), namely, the exhibitions of the 'World of Art' and 
especially the 'Union of Russian Artists' as they now stand: they give nothing 
to the treasure house of art and essentially are merely the epigones of the 
Wanderers. The only difference is that the servile imitation of nature with a 
smattering of Social-Populist ideology (the Wanderers) is replaced in this case 
by the imitation of an intimate aristocratic life with its cult of antiquity and 
sentimentality of individual experience (the cozy art of the 'World of Art 1 
exhibitions and their like). 

I pointed out above that all previous art had touched on problems of a purely 
painterly nature only by allusion and that it had confined itself generally to the 
repetition of the visible; we can say therefore that only the nineteenth century, 
thanks to the school of the impressionists, advanced theses that had been 
unknown previously: the stipulation of a locale of air and light in the picture 
and color analysis. 

Then followed Van Gogh, who hinted at the principle of dynamism, and 
Cezanne, who advanced the questions of construction, planar and surface 
dimension. 

But Van Gogh and Cezanne are only the estuaries of those broad and 
impetuous currents that are most well defined in our time: futurism and cubism. 

Proceeding from the possibilities to which I alluded (dynamism, planar and 
surface dimension), each of these currents has enriched art with a series of 
independent theses. 

Moreover, although initially they were diametrically opposed to each other 
(Dynamics, Statics), they were enriched subsequently with a series of common 
theses. These have lent a common tone to all modern trends in painting. 

Only modern Art has advocated the full and serious importance of such 
principles as pictorial dynamism, volume and equilibrium, weight and weight- 
lessness, linear and plane displacement, rhythm as a legitimate division of space, 
design, planar and surface dimension, texture, color correlation, and others. 
Suffice it to enumerate these principles that distinguish the New Art from the 
Old to be convinced that they are the Qualitative - and not just the quantitative 
- New Basis that proves the 'self-sufficient 1 significance of the New Art. They 
are principles hitherto unknown that signify the rise of a new era in creation - 
an era of purelv artistic achievements. 

- The era of the final, absolute liberation of the Great Art of Painting from 
the alien traits of Literature, Society, and everyday life. Our age is to be credited 
with the cultivation of this valuable world view - an age that is not affected b> 
the question of how quickly the individual trends it has created flash past. 



IIb Cubism 203 

After elucidating the essential values of the New Art, one cannot help noting 
t he extraordinary rise in the whole creative life of our day, the unprecedented 
diversity and quantity of artistic trends. 

t0 Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler (1884-1976) from The 
Rise of Cubism 

Kahnweiler was the leading dealer in Cubist art at the moment of its foundation. His 
contacts, indeed his friendship, with Picasso and Braque enabled them to work relatively 
unhindered by the demands of public exhibition. Declared an enemy alien on the 
outbreak of war in 1914, when his collection was sequestrated, Kahnweiler retired to 
Switzerland. There, influenced by his readings in philosophy, particularly an interest in 
Kant, he composed a theoretical work Der Gegenstand der Asthetik, which included his 
pioneering study of Cubism. This appeared separately, first in Zurich in 1916 and sub- 
sequently in book form as Der Wegzum Kubismus in Munich in 1920. The present trans- 
lation is taken from Robert Motherwell (ed.), Documents of Modern Art, New York, 1949. 



[. . .] painting in our time has become lyric, its stimulus the pure intense 
Relight in the beauty of things. Lyric painting celebrates this beauty without 
epic or dramatic overtones. It strives to capture this beauty in the unity of the 
work of art. The nature of the new painting is clearly characterized as repre- 
sentational as well as structural: representational in that it tries to reproduce 
the formal beauty of things: structural in its attempt to grasp the meaning of 
this formal beauty in the painting. 

Representation and structure conflict. Their reconciliation by the new paint- 
ing, and the stages along the" road to this goal, are the subject of this work. 
* * * 



{...] In the year 1906, Braque, Derain, Matisse and many others were still 
striving for expression through color, using only pleasant arabesques, and 
completely dissolving the form of the object. Cezanne's great example was still 
not understood. Painting threatened to debase itself to the level of ornamenta- 
tion; it sought to be 'decorative, 1 to 'adorn 1 the wall. 

; Picasso had remained indifferent to the temptation of color. He had pursued 
another path, never abandoning his concern for the object. The literary 
'expression 1 which had existed in his earlier work now vanished. A lyricism of 
form retaining fidelity to nature began to take shape. [. . .] 
w Toward the end of 1906, ... the soft round contours in Picasso's paintings 
gave way to hard angular forms; instead of delicate rose, pale yellow and light 
fcreen, the massive forms were weighted with leaden white, gray and black. 

Early in 1907 Picasso began a strange large painting [Les Demoiselles d'Avignon] 
depicting women, fruit and drapery, which he left unfinished. It cannot be called 
°ther than unfinished, even though it represents a long period of work. Begun 



204 The Idea of the Modern World 

in the spirit of the works of 1906, it contains in one section the endeavors f 
1907 and thus never constitutes a unified whole. 

The nudes, with large, quiet eyes, stand rigid, like mannequins. Their stiff 
round bodies are flesh-colored, black and white. That is the style of 1906. 

In the foreground, however, alien to the style of the rest of the painting 
appear a crouching figure and a bowl of fruit. These forms are drawn angularly 
not roundly modeled in chiaroscuro. The colors are luscious blue, strident 
yellow, next to pure black and white. This is the beginning of Cubism, the first 
upsurge, a desperate titanic clash with all of the problems at once. 

These problems were the basic tasks of painting: to represent three dimensions 
and color on a flat surface, and to comprehend them in the unity of that surface. 
'Representation,' however, and 'comprehension' in the strictest and highest 
sense. Not the simulation of form by chiaroscuro, but the depiction of the three 
dimensional through drawing on a flat surface. No pleasant 'composition' but 
uncompromising, organically articulated structure. In addition, there was the 
problem of color, and finally, the most difficult of all, that of the amalgamation, 
the reconciliation of the whole. 

Rashly, Picasso attacked all the problems at once. He placed sharp-edged 
images on the canvas, heads and nudes mostly, in the brightest colors: yellow, 
red, blue and black. He applied the colors in thread-like fashion to serve as 
lines of direction, and to build up, in conjunction with the drawing, the plastic 
effect. But, after months of the most laborious searching, Picasso realized that 
complete solution of the problem did not lie in this direction. [. . .] 

In the spring of 1908 he resumed his quest, this time solving one by one the 
problems that arose. He had to begin with the most important thing, and that 
seemed to be the explanation of form, the representation of the three-dimen- 
sional and its position in space on a two-dimensional surface. [ . . . ] 

Thus Picasso painted figures resembling Congo sculptures, and still lifes of 
the simplest form. His perspective in these works is similar to that of Cezanne. 
Light is never more than a means to create form - through chiaroscuro, since 
he did not at this time repeat the unsuccessful attempt of 1907 to create form 
through drawing. Of these paintings one can no longer say, The light comes 
from this or that side,' because light has become completely a means. The 
pictures are almost monochromatic; brick red and red brown, often with a gray 
or gray green ground, since the color is meant only to be chiaroscuro. 

While Picasso was painting in Paris, and in the summer, at La Rue-des-Bois 
(near Creil, Oise), Braque, at the other end of France, in FEstaque (near 
Marseilles) was painting the series of landscapes we have already mentioned- 
No connection existed between the two artists. This venture was a completely 
new one, totally different from Picasso's work of 1907; by an entirely different 
route Braque arrived at the same point as Picasso. If, in the whole history of 
art, there were not already sufficient proof that the appearance of the aesthetic 
product is conditioned in its particularity by the spirit of the time, that even 
the most powerful artists unconsciously execute its will, then this would be 
proof Separated by distance, and working independently, the two artists devoted 
their most intense effort to paintings which share an extraordinary resemblance- 




iib Cubism 205 

| S relationship between their paintings continued but ceased to be astonishing 
LU se the friendship between the two artists, begun in the winter of that year, 
IJpjght about a constant exchange of ideas. 

^picasso and Braque had to begin with objects of the simplest sort: in landscape, 
^jlfi cylindrical tree trunks and rectangular houses; in still life, with plates, 
^metrical vessels, round fruits and one or two nude figures. They sought to 
See these objects as plastic as possible, and to define their position in space. 
jjpfe we touch upon the indirect advantage of lyric painting. It has made us 
*#are of the beauty of form in the simplest objects, where we had carelessly 
gjperlooked it before. These objects have now become eternally vivid in the reflected 
&iendor of the beauty which the artist has abstracted from them. [. . .] 

f" 

fo,- 

jrithe winter of 1908, the two friends began to work along common and parallel 
#rihs. The subjects of their still life painting became more complex, the 
presentation of nudes more detailed. The relation of objects to one another 
jjiiderwent further differentiation, and structure, heretofore relatively uncompli- 
cated . . . took on more intricacy and variety. Color, as the expression of light, 
It chiaroscuro, continued to be used as a means of shaping form. Distortion of 
iiran, the usual consequence of the conflict between representation and struc- 

Ipfre, was strongly evident. 

■fiAmong the new subjects introduced at this time were musical instruments, 
iWch Braque was the first to paint, and which continued to play such an 

/Aportant role in cubist still life painting. Other new motifs were fruit bowls, 
jfcwtles and glasses. 

'During the summer of 1909 which Picasso spent at Horta (near Tolosa, Spain) 
iad Braque at La Roche Guyon (on the Seine, near Mantes) the new language 
<*£fbrm was further augmented and enriched, but left essentially unchanged. 

Several times during the spring of 1910 Picasso attempted to endow the forms 
of his pictures with color. That is, he tried to use color not only as an expression 
*f light, or chiaroscuro, for the creation of form, but rather as an equally 
a&portant end in itself. Each time he was obliged to paint over the color he 
had thus introduced . . . 

At the same time Braque made an important discovery. In one of his pictures 
he painted a completely naturalistic nail casting its shadow on a wall. The 
Usefulness of this innovation will be discussed later. The difficulty lay in the 
^corporation of this 'real' object into the unity of the painting. From then on, 
both artists consistently limited the space in the background of the picture. In 
^landscape, for instance, instead of painting an illusionistic distant horizon in 
**ich the eye lost itself, the artists closed the three-dimensional space with a 
fountain. In still life or nude painting, the wall of a room served the same 
Purpose. This method of limiting space had already been used frequently by 
Cezanne. 

■ ! During the summer, again spent in TEstaque, Braque took a further step in 
| the introduction of 'real objects,' that is, of realistically painted things intro- 



206 The Idea of the Modern World 

duced, undistorted in form and color, into the picture. We find lettering for 
the first time in a Guitar Player of the period. Here again, lyrical painting 
uncovered a new world of beauty - this time in posters, display windows and 
commercial signs which play so important a role in our visual impressions. 

Much more important, however, was the decisive advance which set Cubism 
free from the language previously used by painting. This occured in Cadaques 
(in Spain, on the Mediterranean near the French border) where Picasso spent 
his summer. Little satisfied, even after weeks of arduous labor, he returned to 
Paris in the fall with his unfinished works. But he had taken the great step; he 
had pierced the closed form. A new tool had been forged for the achievement 
of the new purpose. 

Years of research had proved that closed form did not permit an expression 
sufficient for the two artists' aims. Closed form accepts objects as contained by 
their own surfaces, viz., the skin; it then endeavours to represent this closed 
body, and, since no object is visible without light, to paint this 'skin' as the 
contact point between the body and light where both merge into color. This 
chiaroscuro can provide only an illusion of the form of objects. In the actual 
three dimensional world the object is there to be touched even after light is 
eliminated. Memory images of tactile perceptions can also be verified on visible 
bodies. The different accommodations of the retina of the eye enable us, as it 
were, to 'touch 1 three-dimensional objects from a distance. Two-dimensional 
painting is not concerned with all this. Thus the painters of the Renaissance, 
using the closed form method, endeavored to give the illusion of form by 
painting light as color on the surface of objects. It was never more than 'illusion. 1 

Since it was the mission of color to create the form as chiaroscuro, or light 
that had become perceivable, there was no possibility of rendering local color 
or color itself. It could only be painted as objectivated light. 

In addition, Braque and Picasso were disturbed by the unavoidable distortion 
of form which worried many spectators initially. [. . .] Comparison between the 
real object as articulated by the rhythm of forms in the painting and the same 
object as it exists in the spectator's memory inevitably results in 'distortions' 
as long as even the slightest verisimilitude in the work of art creates this conflict 
in the spectator. Through the combined discoveries of Braque and Picasso 
during the summer of 1910 it became possible to avoid these difficulties by a 
new way of painting. 

On the one hand, Picasso's new method made it possible to 'represent 1 the 
form of objects and their position in space instead of attempting to imitate them 
through illusionistic means. With the representation of solid objects this could 
be effected by a process of representation that has a certain resemblance to 
geometrical drawing. This is a matter of course since the aim of both is to 
render the three-dimensional object on a two-dimensional plane. In addition, 
the painter no longer has to limit himself to depicting the object as it would 
appear from one given viewpoint, but wherever necessary for fuller comprehen- 
sion, can show it from several sides, and from above and below. 

Representation of the position of objects in space is done as follows: instead 
of beginning from a supposed foreground and going on from there to give an 



11b Cubism 207 

fusion of depth by means of perspective, the painter begins from a definite 
a nd clearly defined background. Starting from this background the painter now 
^orks toward the front by a sort of scheme of forms in which each object's 
position is clearly indicated, both in relation to the definite background and to 
other objects. Such an arrangement thus gives a clear and plastic view. But, if 
on ly this scheme of forms were to exist it would be impossible to see in the 
painting the 'representation' of things from the outer world. One would only 
see an arrangement of planes, cylinders, quadrangles, etc. 

At this point Braque's introduction of undistorted real objects into the 
painting takes on its full significance. When 'real details' are thus introduced 
the result is a stimulus which carries with it memory images. Combining the 
'real' stimulus and the scheme of forms, these images construct the finished 
object in the mind. Thus the desired physical representation comes into being 
in the spectator's mind. 

Now the rhythmization necessary for the coordination of the individual parts 
into the unity of the work of art can take place without producing disturbing 
distortions, since the object in effect is no longer 'present' in the painting, that 
\% since it does not yet have the least resemblance to actuality. Therefore, the 
stimulus cannot come into conflict with the product of the assimilation. In other 
words, there exist in the painting the scheme of forms and small real details as 
s&imuli integrated into the unity of the work of art; there exists, as well, but 
only in the mind of the spectator, the finished product of the assimilation, the 
human head, for instance. There is no possibility of a conflict here, and yet the 
Object once 'recognized' in the painting is now 'seen' with a perspicacity of 
which no illusionistic art is capable. 

As to color, its utilization as chiaroscuro had been abolished. Thus, it could 
be freely employed, as color, within the unity of the work of art. For the 
representation of local color, its application on a small scale is sufficient to effect 
fes incorporation into the finished representation in the mind of the spectator. 

In the words of Locke, these painters distinguish between primary and 
secondary qualities. They endeavor to represent the primary, or most important 
qualities, as exactly as possible. In painting these are: the object's form, and its 
position in space. They merely suggest the secondary characteristics such as 
color and tactile quality, leaving their incorporation into the object to the mind 
of the spectator. 

This new language has given painting an unprecedented freedom. It is no 
longer bound to the more or less verisimilar optic image which describes the 
°bject from a single viewpoint. It can, in order to give a thorough representation 
of the object's primary characteristics, depict them as stereometric drawing on 
"le plane, or, through several representations of the same object, can provide 
an analytical study of that object which the spectator then fuses into one again 
m his mind. The representation does not necessarily have to be in the closed 
banner of the stereometric drawing; colored planes, through their direction and 
Relative position, can bring together the formal scheme without uniting in closed 
Prms. This was the great advance made at Cadaques. Instead of an analytical 
description, the painter can, if he prefers, also create in this way a synthesis of 



208 The Idea of the Modern World 

the object, or in the words of Kant, 'put together the various conceptions and 
comprehend their variety in one perception. 1 [■ . .] 

[ . . . ] Here we must make a sharp distinction between the impression made 
upon the spectator and the lines of the painting itself. The name 'Cubism' and 
the designation 'Geometric Art' grew out of the impression of early spectators 
who 'saw' geometric forms in the paintings. This impression is unjustified, since 
the visual conception desired by the painter by no means resides in the geometric 
forms, but rather in the representation of the reproduced objects. 

How does such a sensory illusion come about? It occurs only with observers 
whom lack of habit has prevented from making the associations which lead to 
objective perception. Man is possessed by an urge to objectivate; he wants to 
'see something' in the work of art which should - and he is sure of this - 
represent something. His imagination forcefully calls up memory images, but 
the only ones which present themselves, the only ones which seem to fit the 
straight lines and uniform curves are geometric images. Experience has shown 
that this 'geometric impression 1 disappears completely as soon as the spectator 
familiarizes himself with the new method of expression and gains in perception. 

If we disregard representation, however, and limit ourselves to the 'actual' 
individual lines in the painting, there is no disputing the fact that they are very 
often straight lines and uniform curves. Furthermore, the forms which they 
serve to delineate are often similar to the circle and rectangle, or even to 
stereometric representations of cubes, spheres and cylinders. But, such straight 
lines and uniform curves are present in all styles of the plastic arts which do 
not have as their goal the illusionistic imitation of nature. Architecture, which 
is a plastic art, but at the same time non-representational, uses these lines 
extensively. The same is true of applied art. Man creates no building, no product 
which does not have regular lines. In architecture and applied art, cubes, spheres 
and cylinders are the permanent basic forms. They do not exist in the natural 
world, nor do straight lines. But they are deeply rooted in man; they are the 
necessary condition for all objective perception. 

Our remarks until now about visual perception have concerned its content 
alone, the two dimensional 'seen' and the three dimensional 'known' visual 
images. Now we are concerned with the form of these images, the form of our 
perception of the physical world. The geometric forms we have just mentioned 
provide us with the solid structure; on this structure we build the products of 
our imagination which are composed of stimuli on the retina and memon 
images. They are our categories of vision. When we direct our view on the 
outer world, we always demand those forms but they are never given to us in 
all their purity. The fiat picture which we 'see' bases itself mainly on the straight 
horizontal and vertical, and secondly on the circle. We test the 'seen' lines ot 
the physical world for their greater or lesser relationship to these basic lines. 
Where no actual line exists, we supply the 'basic' line ourselves. For example 
a water horizon which is limited on both sides appears horizontal to us; one 
which is unlimited on both sides appears curved. Furthermore, only our 
knowledge of simple stereometric forms enables us to add the third dimension 
to the flat picture which our eye perceives. Without the cube, we would have 



Hb Cubism 209 

00 feeling of the three dimensionality of objects, and without the sphere and 
cylinder, no feeling of the varieties of this three dimensionality. Our a priori 
knowledge of these forms is the necessary condition, without which there would 
{>e no seeing, no world of objects. Architecture and applied art realize in space 
|rhese basic forms which we always demand in vain of the natural world; the 
sculpture of periods which have turned away from nature approaches these forms 
insofar as its representational goal permits, and the two-dimensional painting of 
such periods gives expression to the same longing in its use of 'basic lines.' 
Humanity is possessed not only by the longing for these lines and forms, but 
jjso by the ability to create them. This ability shows itself clearly in those 
civilizations in which no 'representational 1 plastic art has produced other lines 
gnd forms. 

In its works Cubism, in accordance with its role as both constructive and 
representational art, brings the forms of the physical world as close as possible 
to their underlying basic forms. Through connection with these basic forms, 
upon which all visual and tactile perception is based, Cubism provides the 
dearest elucidation and foundation of all forms. The unconscious effort which 
we have to make with each object of the physical world before we can perceive 
its form is lessened by cubist painting through its demonstration of the relation 
between these objects and basic forms. Like a skeletal frame these basic forms 
wderlie the impression of the represented object in the final visual result of 
the painting; they are no longer 'seen' but are the basis of the 'seen' form. 



11 Georges Braque (1882-1963) 'Thoughts on 
Painting' 

Braque's aphorisms, purportedly jotted down in the margins of his drawings, emphasize 
both the autonomy of Cubism, the 'constitution of a pictorial fact', and its status as a 
form of representation. They were first collected and published by Pierre Reverdy in 
Ws journal Nord-Sud, Paris, December 1917. The present translation is taken from Fry, 
Pp. cit. 



1 

f.J 

4 
5 

i8 



In art progress consists not in extension but in the knowledge of its limits. 

The limits of the means employed determine the style, engender the new 

form and impel to creation. 

The charm and the force of children's paintings often stem from the limited 

means employed. Conversely the art of decadence is a product of extension. 

New means, new subjects. 

The subject is not the object; it is the new unity, the lyricism which stems 

entirely from the means employed. 

The painter thinks in forms and colours. 

The aim is not to reconstitute an anecdotal fact but to constitute a pictorial 

fact. 

Painting is a mode of representation. 




w 



210 The Idea of the Modern World 

9 One must not imitate what one wishes to create. 

10 One does not imitate the appearance; the appearance is the result. 

11 To be pure imitation, painting must make an abstraction of appearances. 

12 To work from nature is to improvise. One must beware of an ali-purp 0$e 
formula, suitable for interpreting the other arts as well as reality, and which 
instead of creating, would produce only a style or rather a stylization. 

13 The arts that make their effect by their purity have never been all-purpose 
arts. Greek sculpture and its decadence, among others, teach us this. 

14 The senses deform, the mind forms. Work to perfect the mind. There is 
no certainty except in what the mind conceives. 

15 A painter trying to make a circle would only make a ring. Possibly the look 
of it may satisfy him but he will have doubts. The compass will restore 
his certainty. The papiers colles in my drawings have also given me a kind 
of certainty. 

16 Trompe-Vwtl is due to an anecdotal accident that makes its effect through 
the simplicity of the facts. 

17 The papiers coiles, the imitation wood - and other elements of the same 
nature - which I have used in certain drawings, also make their effect 
through the simplicity of the facts, and it is this that has led people to 
confuse them with trompe-l'ml, of which they are precisely the opposite. 
They too are simple facts, but created by the mind and such that they are 
one of the justifications of a new figuration in space. 

18 Nobility comes from contained emotion. 

19 Emotion must not be rendered by an emotional trembling. It is not 
something that is added, or that is imitated. It is the germ, the work is the 
flowering. 

20 I love the rule which corrects emotion. 



12 Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) 'Picasso Speaks' 

Picasso's comments on Cubism were given in an interview with Marius de Zayas, an 
American critic, in 1923. They are sceptical of attempts to intellectualize Cubism, 
representing it instead as an art like any other whose success or failure is determined 
by results rather than intentions. De Zayas had lived in Paris before the First World War, 
moving in Apollinaire's circles. He was involved in mounting the first exhibition of 
Picasso's work in America in 1911 and had published two books on the new art in 
1913 and 1915, the latter on the influence of African art. He became director of the 
Modern Galiery in New York in 1915, exhibiting Picasso and Braque among others. The 
present interview, in a translation approved by Picasso, was originally published as 
Picasso Speaks' in The Arts, New York, May 1923, pp. 315-26. 

I can hardly understand the importance given to the word research in connection 
with modern painting. In my opinion to search means nothing in painting. To 
find, is the thing. Nobody is interested in following a man who, with his eyes 
fixed on the ground, spends his life looking for the pocketbook that fortune 
should put in his path. The one who finds something no matter what it might 



IIb Cubism 211 

^ even if his intention were not to search for it, at least arouses our curiosity, 
if not our admiration. 

Among the several sins that I have been accused of committing, none is more 
£lse than the one that I have, as the principal objective in my work, the spirit 
f research. When I paint my object is to show what I have found and not what 
| am looking for. In art intentions are not sufficient and, as we say in Spanish: 
fcve must be proved by facts and not by reasons. What one does is what counts 
and not what one had the intention of doing. 

We all know that Art is not truth. Art is a lie that makes us realize truth, at 
least the truth that is given us to understand. The artist must know the manner 
wherebv to convince others of the truthfulness of his lies. If he only shows in 
his work that he has searched, and re-searched, for the way to put over lies, 
he would never accomplish anything. 

The idea of research has often made painting go astray, and made the artist 
lose himself in mental lucubrations. Perhaps this has been the principal fault of 
modern art. The spirit of research has poisoned those who have not fully 
Understood all the positive and conclusive elements in modern art and has made 
diem attempt to paint the invisible and, therefore, the unpaintable. 

They speak of naturalism in opposition to modern painting. I would like to 
blow if anyone has ever seen a natural work of art. Nature and art, being two 
different things, cannot be the same thing. Through art we express our 
conception of what nature is not. 

.- Velasquez left us his idea of the people of his epoch. Undoubtedly they were 
different from what he painted them, but we cannot conceive a Philip IV in 
fciy other way than the one Velasquez painted. Rubens also made a portrait of 
the same king and in Rubens's portrait he seems to be quite another person. 
We believe in the one painted by Velasquez, for he convinces us by his right 

iff might. 

From the painters of the origins, the primitives, whose work is obviously 
different from nature, down to those artists who, like David, Ingres, and even 
Bouguereau, believed in painting nature as it is, art has always been art and 
not nature. And from the point of view of art there are no concrete or abstract 
forms, but only forms which are more or less convincing lies. That those lies 
are necessary to our mental selves is beyond any doubt, as it is through them 
that we form our aesthetic point of view of life. 

Cubism is no different from any other school of painting. The same principles 
and the same elements are common to all. The fact that for a long time Cubism 
has not been understood and that even today there are people who cannot see 
anything in it, means nothing. I do not read English, an English book is a blank- 
hook to me. This does not mean that the English language does not exist, and 
Why should I blame anybody else but myself if I cannot understand what I 
know nothing about? 

I also often hear the work evolution. Repeatedly I am asked to explain how 
^y painting evolved. To me there is no past or future in art. If a work of art 
Cannot live always in the present it must not be considered at all. The art of 
the Greeks, of the Egyptians, of the great painters who lived in other times, is 



212 The Idea of the Modern World 

not an art of the past; perhaps it is more alive today than it ever was. Art does 
not evolve by itself, the ideas of people change and with them their mode of 
expression. When I hear people speak of the evolution of an artist, it seems to 
me that they are considering him standing between two mirrors that face each 
other and reproduce his image an infinite number of times, and that they 
contemplate the successive images of one mirror as his past, and the images of 
the other mirror as his future, while his real image is taken as his present. They 
do not consider that they all are the same images in different planes. 

Variation does not mean evolution. If an artist varies his mode of expression 
this only means that he has changed his manner of thinking, and in changing, 
it might be for the better or it might be for the worse. 

The several manners I have used in my art must not be considered as an 
evolution, or as steps toward an unknown ideal of painting. All I have ever 
made was made for the present and with the hope that it will always remain in 
the present. I have never taken into consideration the spirit of research. When 
I have found something to express, I have done it without thinking of the past 
or of the future. I do not believe I have used radically different elements in 
the different manners I have used in painting. If the subjects I have wanted to 
express have suggested different ways of expression I have never hesitated to 
adopt them. I have never made trials nor experiments. Whenever I had 
something to say, I have said it in the manner in which I have felt it ought to 
be said. Different motives inevitably require different methods of expression. 
This does not imply either evolution or progress, but an adaptation of the idea 
one wants to express and the means to express that idea. 

Arts of transition do not exist. In the chronological history of art there are 
periods which are more positive, more complete than others. This means that 
there are periods in which there are better artists than in others. If the history 
of art could be graphically represented, as in a chart used by a nurse to mark 
the changes of temperature of her patient, the same silhouettes of mountains 
would be shown, proving that in art there is no ascendant progress, but that it 
follows certain ups and downs that might occur at any time. The same occurs 
with the work of an individual artist. 

Many think that Cubism is an art of transition, an experiment which is to 
bring ulterior results. Those who think that way have not understood it. Cubism 
is not either a seed or a foetus, but an art dealing primarily with forms, and 
when a form is realized it is there to live its own life. A mineral substance, 
having geometric formation, is not made so for transitory purposes, it is to 
remain what it is and will always have its own form. But if we are to apply the 
law of evolution and transformation to art, then we have to admit that all art 
is transitory. On the contrary, art does not enter into these philosophic 
absolutisms. If Cubism is an art of transition I am sure that the only thing that 
will come out of it is another form of Cubism. 

Mathematics, trigonometry, chemistry, psychoanalysis, music, and whatnot, 
have been related to Cubism to give it an easier interpretation. All this has been 
pure literature, not to say nonsense, which brought bad results, blinding peopl e 
with theories. 



IIh Cubism 213 

Cubism has kept itself within the limits and limitations of painting, never 
pretending to go beyond it. Drawing, design, and color are understood and 
practiced in Cubism in the spirit and manner that they are understood and 
practiced in all other schools. Our subjects might be different, as we have 
introduced into painting objects and forms that were formerly ignored. We have 
kept our eyes open to our surroundings, and also our brains. 

We give to form and color all their individual significance, as far as we can 
see it; in our subjects, we keep the joy of discovery, the pleasure of the 
unexpected; our subject itself must be a source of interest. But of what use is 
it to say what we do when everybody can see it if he wants to? 



Part III 

Rationalization and 
Transformation 



Ill 

Introduction 



By the outbreak of the First World War the channels of the avant-garde were 
open. Those channels mostly ran to Paris, from cities as diverse as Oslo and 
Milan, Moscow, Vienna and Barcelona. But sometimes the current ran the other 
way too, and on occasion scarcely touched Paris at all: a Russian-German axis 
grew strong, signalled by Kandinsky's presence in Munich. August 1914, 
however, put a stop to this mutual fertilization, and gave xenophobia a foothold 
in the avant-garde which it has never quite lost. The effect of the war was not 
simply a matter of travel ceasing. Willingly or unwillingly artists were drawn 
ipto the conflict. Many were wounded, died or suffered mental collapse. Others 

■ - or in some cases the same - became disenchanted with their societies to the 
extent of allying themselves with wider social forces devoted to their overthrow. 
As war was joined on the social agenda by revolution, the artistic avant-garde 
acquired a more forceful political dimension than hitherto. These years were 
apocalyptic. The Hapsburg, Hohernzollern, Ottoman and Romanov dynasties, 
Repositories of power for centuries rather than mere decades, were overthrown. 
Mass political movements came to occupy the historical stage, Fascism and 
Communism foremost among them. Technology advanced, military technology 
furthest of all, taking with it the apparatus of social control- Death and 
devastation occurred on a scale unseen in Europe since the plagues. To regard 
a form of art as modern was to require of it that it respond in aesthetic kind 
to the demands imposed by the modern condition. It is scarcely to be wondered 
a *» then, that the war years and their aftermath should have proved a traumatic 
Period for the artistic avant-garde. 

Two different and opposed responses are discernible among the various groups 
Of artists, related to the different wartime circumstances of specific countries 
W cities. On the one side there was the belief that the war had been the result 
°* a breakdown, particularly of a breakdown in shared values and social cohesion, 

■y which the pre-war avant-garde was itself a symptom. In this light the war 
^e to be viewed as a cleansing process, the 'great test', in Le Corbusier's 
Phrase: a sacrifice required for the re-establishment of a civilized order (see IIlA 

Wteswi). On the other stood a perception of the war as the quite specific outcome 

■M that order's concealed barbarism: a perception that the war represented a 
Heightened version of bourgeois society, or a limited version of its broader 



218 Rationalization and Transformation 

priorities. In order to ensure that such a catastrophe never happened again, far 
from that order being re-established, what was required was that the social 
forces whose order in the last instance it was, be themselves swept away (see 
MB passim), 

Paris had been the focal point of an international avant-garde. But the war 
led to a wave of nationalism in French culture which victory only intensified. 
French tradition was perceived as the legitimate descendant of the Renaissance 
and Classical tradition, and its re-establishment became the common coin of 
debate (IIIA2, 5, 7, 9). This voice had in fact been heard before the war (see 
lA,7 and 8). The difference now was that agreement came from broader sections 
of the avant-garde, which hitherto had in general tended to be identified by the 
distance it took from dominant values. The meaning of Cubism became a 
particular site of controversy. Cubism mattered because its status was incon- 
testable as the paradigmatic modern movement. Its effect on the practice of art 
had been such that it could not now be ignored by those wishing to orientate 
art to the new circumstances. What was at issue w r as what Cubism meant. 
Pre-war Cubism had had bohemian, even anarchistic affiliations, not least in 
respect of the Spaniard Picasso: a far cry from the invocation of a national, 
classical tradition now being made by those such as Denis who occupied the 
right of the avant-garde spectrum. But the war had the effect of shifting this 
emphasis within avant-garde thought from its somewhat paradoxical and con- 
servative margin to the centre. Cubism came to be redefined in terms consonant 
with the rappel d Vordre (see IIlAl and 5). 

The classicizing tendency was not restricted to France. Italy, also on the 
winning side in the war, had been host to the most aggressively anti-classical 
pre-war avant-garde in the form of the Futurist movement. But the realities of 
the war - the reality at bottom of pitting men against machines - had disabled 
that rhetoric as effectively as it had maimed many of the flesh-and-blood 
individuals who had assented to it. There ensued a turn to the classical tradition 
with all that it was supposed to embody in terms of eternal, unchanging values 
(see IIIA4 and 6). In England, the pre-war Vorticist avant-garde had suffered a 
similar depletion and diversion of its energies. In 1921 Wyndham Lewis added 
an English voice to the endemic post-war call for reconnection to tradition 
(IIIA10). 

There is a sense, then - or perhaps better a sector - in which the avant-garde 
stopped in its tracks. In a closely related but ultimately different sense, however, 
the avant-garde was also redefined: in terms which removed it from an} 
oppositional locale, and established it as the modernized bearer of tradition, and 
as such as a candidate for a plausible culture of the modern bourgeoisie (see 

IIIA7). 

Yet for some this was always going to be insufficient, if not indeed tantamoun 
to a betrayal of the avant-garde's raison d'etre. The alternative reading of the 
war as the fault of bourgeois society rather than of its opponents, involved a^ 
alternative and complementary reading of Cubism. Not accidentally these force 
were initially focused in Zurich, that is to say in neutral Switzerland, surrounde 
by the warring capitalist powers - and as such both a whirlpool of intrigue an 




III Introduction 219 

a refuge for opponents of the war. Seen from this perspective, the avant-garde 
was far from appearing as a body which need only be smartened up to play its 
part in social restoration; rather, it appeared to be already complicit in the 
culture of the international bourgeoisie; it followed that it deserved to be finished 
off along with its sponsors (see HlBl and 3). Among its other targets, Dada 
mounted an onslaught on the sense which had been made of art. Marcel 
Duchamp had already left for America before the war, and was thus himself 
removed from the reach of the European conflict. But with his Readymades he 
essayed perhaps the most extreme refutation of the claim that there is some 
essential, or classical, property that is shared by all great art (see IIIB2). 

Duchamp's was not a political critique in any strict sense, and by the same 
token neither was Picabia's (see IIIB14). Zurich Dada and perhaps even more 
so its descendants in Paris, Barcelona and New York, were cultural gestures 
with a broader ideological rather than a more narrowly political impact. It is in 
the light of this that Dada is commonly perceived as anti-art and irrationalist. 
It was both those things. But it was the Dada position that bourgeois art, 
bourgeois order and bourgeois rationalism had been implicated in the deaths of 
millions; that bourgeois culture was no more than a mask of civilization laid 
■Over a deeper barbarism. Cubism, as art, was no more worth saving than any 
of the other -isms. But before it went under, Cubism had hit upon a device 
whose potential transcended the circumscribed circle of an artistic avant-garde, 
iticd ultimately to its haut-bourgeois sponsors. This was collage. Developed into 
photomontage it became the main weapon in the critical artist's armoury against 
convention. Nowhere was this transition from a more or less hermetic art, 
through cultural contestation, to an explicitly politically motivated intervention, 
l»ore evident than in the inflection given to Dada, late in the war, in Berlin 
#ce IIIB4-6). 

\ *From the foregoing it may at first appear that there is a direct correlation to 
%e made between artistic form and political standpoint. It may seem, that is to 
say, that a search for underlying principles, let alone a reinstatement of 
figuration, signifies a conservative politics; whereas a technically radical practice 
founded in devices for the scrambling of sense - be they verbal or pictorial - 
ftttomatically implies a politically radical stance. There is indeed some truth in 
this. But it does not hold for all instances, let alone in all places. This issue of 
Pfoce is important, for much here concerns the question of context. Before the 
first World War ended it had brought in its train an event which, put simply, 
changed the context for the art of succeeding decades, until the Second World 
War, and beyond. The Russian Revolution of October 1917 set an agenda for 
*°th art and politics which only at the very end of the century may seem to 
$**e receded into history. Then, at the moment of its occurrence, its effect was 
petrifying. The socialist revolution against the entire bourgeois order rendered 
I™ field of problems and possibilities significantly different. In Europe there 
J^as no area of human endeavour which escaped its influence. Art was no 
**ception. 

*** The problem may be put like this. The rappel a Vordre was fundamentally 
^•storative, as its name implies. It was not necessarily altogether reactionary. 



220 Rationalization and Transformation 

For example, it did not characteristically result in calls for the restoration of 
the monarchies. But what it did set out to restore, in fact to stimulate anew, 
was the order of bourgeois capitalism organized around the form of the 
nation-state. It was this which culture in general and art in particular was called 
upon to support. By contrast Dadaism in its various forms was an oppositional 
force committed to the overthrow of that damaged but resilient status quo. The 
point which arises here, it goes almost without saying, is that what in fact the 
Dadaists could not do, the Bolsheviks did. The rules of the game were effectively 
changed by the success of the Communist revolution in what was to become 
the Soviet Union. For the prospect of positive participation in the building of 
a new life rapidly came on the agenda of radical art practice. Intervention in 
daily life was no longer opposition to an entrenched status quo. Equally rapidly, 
the types of attitude and practice evolved to cope with that situation fed back 
to influence radical artists in the West, who were hopeful of achieving similar 
successes against their own restored forms of bourgeois capitalism (IIID2 and 
4). In this situation there is no direct equivalence between art and politics, 
nothing to say that a conservatively formed poem or painting may not be fuelled 
by Bolshevik political desire (see IIIB13); nothing either to say that the techni- 
cally radical artwork may not be predicated upon an idealist cosmology to which 
socialism, or even democracy, is anathema (see Illcll). And the uniquely 
expressive T, at one moment the cutting-edge of the avant-garde and scourge 
of bourgeois conformity, could at the next stand for petty-bourgeois reaction 
and self-indulgence, in its refusal of the collectivity required to defend the 
revolution and build the new world (see IIlBll-12). 

These currents are vividly represented in Germany in the wake of the 
revolution of November 1918, not least in that alliance of Expressionists and 
Dadaists which was the Novembergruppe (see IIIB8). But this fragile avant-garde 
coalition was pulled apart by the failure of the German revolution and the 
setting up of the bourgeois Weimar Republic. The turn to a 'new objectivity' 
was the somewhat paradoxical outcome for many of those who had been most 
closely identified with Berlin Dada - a move which was underwritten for artists 
like Grosz, Heartfield and Schlichter by membership of the newly formed 
German Communist Party (see IIIB9 and 13). The tendency among left-wing 
artists to turn again to objective forms of figuration is dealt with more fully in 
the next section (see IVb passim). What pertains here is to note the diversity 
of aims underlying the technically not dissimilar practices of Carra, de Chirico 
and Derain, and of Grosz and other members of the Novembergruppe Left 
opposition. 

There was another kind of order emergent in the post-war West European 
avant-garde which had relations of a different kind with the art practice evolving 
in the Soviet Union. Dadaists and artists of the new objectivity shared a broad 
political perspective with the post-revolutionary avant-garde, but little in the 
way of techniques. Others, however, while sharing relatively little in terms of 
political sympathies seemed to employ very nearly identical technical procedures. 

The war years saw the achievement of a vision which had possessed the 
avant-garde since the turn of the century: an abstract art. Although often 



III Introduction 221 

^edited with having painted the first abstract picture as early as 1910, Kandin- 
s fcy was in fact still doubtful as to the feasibility of an abstract art in 1914 (see 
|p8). In the conditions of relative isolation imposed by the war two remarkably 
s ifnilar forms of geometric abstraction were achieved almost simultaneously at 
opposite ends of the continent. Close scrutiny either of the paintings themselves 
ot of the theories underlying them would have revealed clear distinctions. None 
the less, in the long view there are obvious similarities between the painting of 
j^londrian, advanced under the rubric of the 'new plastic' in Holland, and the 
painting of Malevich, who called his work 'Suprematism', in Russia (see 
IIIC5-7). While no less idiosyncratic than Kandinsky, Malevich and Mondrian 
Jiad both passed through Cubism, and thus shared a technical resource which 
both marked their art off from his, and offered a greater promise of development 
to other artists. Cubism was always at bottom a representational art, but in its 
autonomization of the picture surface and in its animation of that surface as a 
series of shifting planes, it seems to have offered the technical device which 
enabled theories of abstraction to be realized in practice. It is moreover a key 
feature of this abstract art that it was advanced as a relevant response to social 
as well as to aesthetic demands. In Holland, Mondrian joined with Van Doesburg 
and others in the De Stijl group to advertise abstract art as the spiritual 
precursor of a Utopian social harmony (see IIIc3^). In Russia the revolution 
led Malevich to transform his Suprematism into the collective UNOVIS - Sup- 
porters of the New Art - the more effectively to propagandize abstraction as the 
revolutionary art appropriate to the new revolutionary society (see IIIc8 and 10). 

Both of these approaches remain resolutely idealist. In response to the Marxist 
materialism of the Bolsheviks however, other Russian artists developed an 
austere form of technical inquiry, a so-called 'laboratory art', under the overall 
name of Constructivism (see IIID3, 5 and 6). That there are clear overlaps 
between these developments has often been taken as justifying claims for the 
existence of an 'international constructive tendency'. Russian Constructivism 
however, remains, distinct, politically and theoretically, if not always technically 
and formally; distinguished by its post-revolutionary situation from comparable 
practices in the bourgeois societies of Western Europe. Such 'utilitarian' con- 
structivism in Russia stood at the high-water mark of a frequently voiced 
avant-garde aspiration: the ultimate dissolution of art into life. In their social 
dimension, Western forms of constructive abstraction proceeded by a similar 
route to the opposite destination: the aestheticization of life itself. If their hopes 
w ere fulfilled, art as it was currently practised would cease, not because it had 
oeen subsumed into life but because the whole of life would have been rendered 
artistic. 

The former claim proceeds from Marxist historical materialism, and it com- 
mitted those making it to the construction of a new life here and now within 
the real history of the revolution. For the latter, historical reality, let alone the 
contingencies of political organization, seems at times to have been viewed as 
impeding a Utopian vision. The materialism of the one was as much opposed 
to the idealism of the other as any Dadaist would have been to demands to 
^instate the classical. 



222 Rationalization and Transformation 

There are, then, moments of unusual proximity as well as deep divergence 
across the spectrum of the European avant-garde in the years after the Fi rst 
World War, years given their peculiar and lasting character by the impact f 
the Russian Revolution and the response it drew from artists. No one template 
or pattern will do to describe these relations, as technical and contextual factors 
form first into one constellation only to dissolve into another. There is an elusive 
but significant distinction to be made between one sense of order which i s 
predicated on a reinstatement of the classical tradition, and another which aspires 
to a kind of modernization of the universal, a geometric Modernist utopianism. 
This latter in its turn, though, must be distinguished from yet a third kind of 
order built upon a sense of historical contingency and rupture, rather than any 
conviction of eternal verities and forms of continuity. We may speak of three 
tendencies in Classicism, Rationalism and Constructivism. These are at the same 
time both responses to war and revolution, and responses to previous avant-garde 
work. Neither side of that triangle makes any sense without the other. Nor does 
the impulse to a kind of avant-garde border which also infuses the period, and 
which exists in symbiosis with its apparent opposites. What is being contested, 
culturally and technically, is a social space. The kinds of society which might 
emerge, and the kinds of art which might therefore be possible, seemed uniquely 
open in the approximate decade 1916/17 to 1926/27. The old world had gone 
down like Atlantis in the maelstrom of world war, and the shape of the new 
one had not yet been defined. 



IllA 

JNeo-Classicism and the Call 
to Order 



I Amedee Ozenfant (1886-1966) 'Notes on Cubism' 

fie author was a Cubist painter as well as a prolific writer. This essay is an early 
Statement of the desire, in the changed circumstances of the war and its aftermath, to 
Ifean up Cubism: to 'rationalize' and 'purify' it. Not least, this involved separating it from 
Ifiy supposed German associations and explicitly formulating a relation to the French 
classical tradition. Originally published as 'Notes sur le Cubisme' in L'Eian, no. 10, Paris, 
iecember 1916, from which the present translation is made. (This was the final edition 
#a journal founded by Ozenfant in April 1915.) 

■■ ..**;■■ 

the campaign of Elan has shown that Cubism owes nothing to the Germans: 

%mce the insults about this issue were killed off in Paris, they have become rare 

pi the provinces. 

1 But none the less Cubism is widely discussed. 

> The literary world shows us that intelligent amateurs of art are interested in 

#ur pursuits, and most of this world shows a certain good will and an 

understanding of Cubism; nevertheless, an important part of this same public 

Continues to look down on Cubists and feel that the Cubists do the same to 

them. The public happily scoffs at that which is beyond its understanding. 

Moreover, certain artists have been led to adopt an abstruse and disdainful 

attitude to the public, judging them to be fools. 

For many, Cubism has remained an art of the clique or coterie: it is useless 
to harp on the dangers art runs when it shuts itself in an ivory tower. 

Certain Cubists, mimicking Picasso, have thought it possible to rebuild the 
pretentious and trivial ivory tower of the Romantics and to top it off with a 
&p brought down from Montmartre. 

'Others, neither artists nor intellectuals but true ignoramuses, have worn out 
the public with a pseudo-scientific pathos, discrediting the works of the true 
^Cubists. 

This interest in Cubism is quite evident today, so that from now on it will 
** possible to speak of it reasonably, of its truth and of its errors. 
* Cubism is assured a genuine importance in the history of the plastic arts, 
because it has already partly realized its purist plan of cleansing the language 



1 



224 Rationalization and Transformation 

of the plastic arts of parasitic expressions, just as Mallarme tried to do in verbal 
language. 

Cubism is a Movement of Purism 

Following the experiments of Ingres, Cezanne, Seurat, Matisse on the essential 
properties of visible matter, Cubism has pointed out that optical effects count 
formally, beyond all description or representation, by the power of their 
harmonies and dissonances. 

Cubism was to fuse the regeneration of contemporary art with the great 
tradition of the formalists: Assyrians, Greeks, Chinese and the admirable 
anonymous 'Negro' artists. 

Eliminating all literal representation, the Picassos, Braques and Archipenkos 
showed once again the essential elements in the works of a Claude Lorrain or 
a Negro painter: the optical relations of matter. Despite the interest of its 
experiments, Cubism went through a crisis. This was the fault of certain major 
artists who, tempted by the commodity that Cubism had made from itself, 
turned in upon themselves and lapsed into the automatic use of the same forms 
over and over. This threatened to ossify Cubism into a formula of angles, the 
repetition of handles, spouts, to stand for pitchers and so on. 

This was a crisis because true Cubists, renouncing the charm of living curves, 
used the line and the square in a Socratic manner; whereas the mediocrities 
(having successively abandoned pointillism, then Matisse-ism, as old hat), 
decided that Cubism was the last fashionable bandwagon. Their latest delight 
is to impose parts of a square on women's faces; this is to turn Cubism into a 
machine-tool. 

A crisis, because some ignoramuses, contrary to all reason, banished the third 
dimension as out of date, and replaced it by a new fourth dimension. As this 
fourth dimension is purely hypothetical (the formal sense of man remains 
conditioned by his perceptions, which are purely three-dimensional) what do 
they do? They suppress the third dimension. So in effect they reduce to just 
two dimensions, forgetting that it is ludicrous to pretend, with the help of the 
two dimensions, to create from them a fourth. 

The third dimension (depth) is never absent from any plastic work, even in 
a simple drawing, since this drawing suggests on one plane the limits of different 
planes. It is never absent, even in a canvas covered with patches of colour, since 
formally the diverse colours appear to be on different planes. 

The only painting in two dimensions would be a surface plane painted in # 
single colour. 

If in a plastic work the third dimension is necessarily perspectival, one can 
argue, as a necessary corollary, that there are no plastic works which lac 
perspective. . 

However, there are Cubists who declare they have depicted the fourt 
dimension and abolished the third, in the process supplanting perspective. As 
if you could play around with perspective, and the volume of substantial objects, 
just on the basis of fashion or some decree! 




iiia Neo-Classicism and the Call to Order 225 

This just proves that formalists, being architects of matter and working with 
the properties of this matter in space, should in the interests of both Cubism 
a nd Art, know as much as possible about the laws that govern them, to avoid 
making free with these same laws. 

The artist has a right to unlimited poetic licence if his sensibility guides him, 
but such a licence can only ever serve to confirm the existence of these laws. 

There is also a crisis because the faux naifs, followers of Rousseau, believe in 
the indispensability of the trivial. They are accompanied by a group of poets, 
nale imitations of Max Jacob, and of grotesque musicians who prattle, whistle 
and tinkle. There is a crisis, finally, because certain artists, enamoured of 
strength, forget that strength without flexibility is brutality; a manifestation of 
weakness, certainly a form of sickliness. 

.■:..■ One of the most highly prized achievements in Cubism is, first, to have succeeded 
jn introducing into art new harmonies of matter, form and tone. Second, to have 
shown, as it seems to me, that everything is beautiful from a certain angle. 
-. Cubism knew how to change accepted angles. 

4 Contributing a new way of attuning our eyes (though sometimes perversely), 
it revealed new beauties to the eye, thereby diminishing ugliness by getting us 
*i$ed to its artistic taste. 

# Finally, it seems that Cubism too often forgets that its value does not depend 
on the absence of representation, but from the beauty of harmony. If it is true 
fkat the interest of a form is independent of meaningfulness, the opposite is 
J&ae; that meaning takes nothing from formal beauty. 

3: If it seems just to class Braque amongst the great formal artists, this is not 
(because his art is non-representational. If it seems certain that Segonzac is a 
freat formal artist, this is not because his art is representational. 
'-p However, it seems probable that the representationality of forms, far from 
damaging their shape, may be a source of formal strength (because the emotion 
Aplastic art is not solely an optical phenomenon). The intellect reacts to the 
optical sensation, and enriches or deforms it, according to whether one has used 
& appropriately or not. 

■3 Remember that this intervention by the intelligence would allow one to make 
**se of the resources of natural association: and thus Cubism would avoid the 
«anger of ossifying its forms into 'decorative' formulae. (This is something that 
the Persians, the Cretans, the Arabs, etc. did not avoid when they organized 
«*e interplay of form beyond all representation.) 

We will indulge those followers who constitute a school because in spite of 
tverything, they have use of the forms of the masters; they can exaggerate them, 
Slickly make them unbearable, set free the liberty that their genius holds in chains. 



I Guillaume Apollinaire (1880-1918) 'The New 
Spirit and the Poets' 

pollinaire stresses the return to discipline and to order demanded of the post-war 
^nt-garde. This involved a rejection of romanticism, which is seen as tainted by 



226 Rationalization and Transformation 

German associations, and the invocation of classicism, rooted in a sense of the nation 
Originally published as 1'Esprit Nouveau et les Poetes', Mercure de France, Paris, 
1 December 1918. The present extract is taken from R. Shattuck (ed.) f Selected Writings 
of Guillaume Apollinaire, New York, 1971. 

The new spirit which will dominate the poetry of the entire world has nowhere 
come to light as it has in France. The strong intellectual discipline which the 
French have always imposed on themselves permits them, as well as their 
spiritual kin, to have a conception of life, of the arts and of letters, which, 
without being simply the recollection of antiquity, is also not the counterpart 
of romantic prettiness. 

The new spirit which is making itself heard strives above all to inherit from 
the classics a sound good sense, a sure critical spirit, perspectives on the universe 
and on the soul of man, and the sense of duty which lays bare our feelings and 
limits or rather contains their manifestations. 

It strives further to inherit from the romantics a curiosity which will incite 
it to explore all the domains suitable for furnishing literary subject matter which 
will permit life to be exalted in whatever form it occurs. 

To explore truth, to search for it, as much in the ethnic domain, for example, 
as in that of the imagination - those are the principal characteristics of the new 
spirit. 

This tendency, moreover, has always had its bold proponents, although they 
were unaware of it; for a long time it has been taking shape and making progress. 

However, this is the first time that it has appeared fullv conscious of itself. 

It would have been strange if in an epoch when the popular art par excellence, 
the cinema, is a book of pictures, the poets had not tried to compose pictures 
for meditative and refined minds which are not content with the crude imagin- 
ings of the makers of films. These last will become more perceptive, and one 
can predict the day when, the photograph and the cinema having become the 
only form of publication in use, the poet will have a freedom heretofore unknown. 

One should not be astonished if, with only the means they have now at their 
disposal, they set themselves to preparing this new art (vaster than the plain 
art of words) in which, like conductors of an orchestra of unbelievable scope, 
they will have at their disposition the entire world, its noises and its appearances, 
the thought and language of man, song, dance, all the arts and all the artifices, 
still more mirages than Morgane could summon up on the hill of Gibel, witn 
which to compose the visible and unfolded book of the future. 

But generally you will not find in France the 'words at liberty' which have 
been reached by the excesses of the Italian and Russian futurists, the extravagant 
offspring of the new spirit, for France abhors disorder. She readily questions 
fundamentals, but she has a horror of chaos. 

Do not believe that this new spirit is complicated, slack, artificial, and frozen- 
In keeping with the very order of nature, the poet puts aside any high-flo* n 



IIIa Neo-Classicism and the Call to Order 227 

^rpose. There is no longer any Wagnerianism in us, and the young authors 
^ve cast far away all the enchanted clothing of the mighty romanticism of 
germany and Wagner, just as they have rejected the rustic tinsel of our early 
valuations of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. 

■■- I do not believe that social developments will ever go so far that one will not 
liable to speak of national literature. On the contrary, however far one advances 
0ii the path of new freedoms, they will only reinforce most of the ancient 
disciplines and bring out new ones which will not be less demanding than the 
0|d. This is why I think that, whatever happens, art increasingly has a country, 
furthermore, poets must always express a milieu, a nation; and artists, just as 
poets, just as philosophers, form a social estate which belongs doubtless to all 
humanity, but as the expression of a race, of one given environment. 

Art will only cease being national the day that the whole universe, living in 
the same climate, in houses built in the same style, speaks the same language 
#ith the same accent - that is to say never. From ethnic and national differences 
#e born the variety of literary expressions, and it is that very variety which 
must be preserved. 

, A cosmopolitan lyric expression would only yield shapeless works without 
character or individual structure, which would have the value of the common- 
|laces of international parliamentary rhetoric. And notice that the cinema, which 

■M the perfect cosmopolitan art, already shows ethnic differences immediately 
;|pparent to everyone, and film enthusiasts immediately distinguish between an 
Jteierican and an Italian film. Likewise the new spirit, which has the ambition 
M manifesting a universal spirit and which does not intend to limit its activity, 
fenone the less, and claims to respect the fact, a particular and lyric expression 
if the French nation, just as the classic spirit is, par excellence, a sublime 
impression of the same nation. 

$£It must not be forgotten that it is perhaps more dangerous for a nation to 
*Bow itself to be conquered intellectually than by arms. That is why the new 
spirit asserts above all an order and a duty which are the great classic qualities 
Manifested by French genius; and to them it adds liberty. This liberty and 
this order, which combine in the new spirit, are its characteristic and its 
length. 



$ Oswald Spengler (1880-1936) from The Decline of 
h the West 

■■.'■■!> 

Jpengler's massive work became a benchmark of the conservative response to the 
*]£ dern world in general and the upheaval wrought by the First World War in particular. 
; #nough its cultural pessimism had an effect on Nazism, the work also had an influence 
... jjPon figures as diverse as El Lissitsky, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and much later, Clement 
; j*eenberg. In this extract Spengler charts the decline of Western art from the Renaiss- 
ance to Expressionism. Originally published as Der Untergang Des Abendlandes, Gestalt 
f *W Wirklichkeit, Munich, 1918. English translation by C. F. Atkinson, London, 1926. 
- '"e present extract is taken from Chapter VIII, 'Music and Plastic (2) Act and Portrait'. 



228 Rationalization and Transformation 

[. . .] The sign of all living art, the pure harmony of 'will', 'must' and 'can\ 
the self-evidence of the aim, the un-self-consciousness of the execution, the 
unity of the art and the Culture - all that is past and gone. In Corot and 
Tiepolo, Mozart and Cimarosa, there is still a real mastery of the mother-tongue. 
After them, the process of mutilation begins, but no one is conscious of i t 
because no one now can speak it fluently. Once upon a time, Freedom and 
Necessity were identical; but now what is understood by freedom is in fact 
indiscipline. In the time of Rembrandt or Bach the 'failures' that we know only 
too well were quite unthinkable. The Destiny of the form lay in the race or 
the school, not in the private tendencies of the individual. Under the spell of 
a great tradition full achievement is possible even to a minor artist, because the 
living art brings him in touch with his task and the task with him. To-day, 
these artists can no longer perform what they intend, for intellectual operations 
are a poor substitute for the trained instinct that has died out. [. . .] 

Between Wagner and Manet there is a deep relationship, which is not, indeed, 
obvious to everyone but which Baudelaire with his unerring flair for the decadent 
detected at once. For the Impressionists, the end and the culmination of art 
was the conjuring up of a world in space out of strokes and patches of colour, 
and this was just what Wagner achieved with three bars. A whole world of soul 
could crowd into these three bars. Colours of starry midnight, of sweeping 
clouds, of autumn, of the day dawning in fear and sorrow, sudden glimpses of 
sunlit distances, world-fear, impending doom, despair and its fierce effort, 
hopeless hope - all these impressions which no composer before him had thought 
it possible to catch, he could paint with entire distinctness in the few tones of 
a motive. Here the contrast of Western music with Greek plastic has reached 
its maximum. Everything merges in bodiless infinity, no longer even does a 
linear melody wrestle itself clear of the vague tone-masses that in strange 
surgings challenge an imaginary space. The motive comes up out of dark terrible 
deeps. It is flooded for an instant by a flash of hard bright sun. Then, suddenly, 
it is so close upon us that we shrink. It laughs, it coaxes, it threatens, and anon 
it vanishes into the domain of the strings, only to return again out of endless 
distances, faintly modified and in the voice of a single oboe, to pour out a fresh 
cornucopia of spiritual colours. Whatever this is, it is neither painting nor music, 
in any sense of these words that attaches to previous work in the strict style. 

All that Nietzsche says of Wagner is applicable, also, to Manet. Ostensibly a 
return to the elemental, to Nature, as against contemplation-painting (Inhalt- 
smalerei) and abstract music, their art really signifies a concession to the 
barbarism of the Megalopolis, the beginning of dissolution sensibly manifested 
in a mixture of brutality and refinement. As a step, it is necessarily the last 
step. An artificial art has no further organic future, it is the mark of the end_ 

And the bitter conclusion is that it is all irretrievably over with the arts o 
form of the West. The crisis of the 19th Century was the death-struggle. Like 
the Apollinian, the Egyptian and every other, the Faustian art dies of senility, 
having actualized its inward possibilities and fulfilled its mission within the 
course of its Culture. 




HIa Neo-Classicism and the Call to Order 229 

^ What is practised as art to-day - be it music after Wagner or painting after 
£ezanne, Leibl and Menzel - is impotence and falsehood. Look where one will, 
can one find the great personalities that would justify the claim that there is 
Utill an art of determinate necessity? Look where one will, can one find the 
.-self-evident ly necessary task that awaits such an artist? We go through all the 
exhibitions, the concerts, the theatres, and find only industrious cobblers and 
floisy fools, who delight to. produce something for the market, something that 
w ill 'catch on 1 with a public for whom art and music and drama have long 
ceased to be spiritual necessities. At what a level of inward and outward dignity 
stand to-day that which is called art and those who are called artists! In the 
shareholders' meeting of any limited company, or in the technical staff of any 
first-rate engineering works there is more intelligence, taste, character and 
capacity than in the whole music and painting of present-day Europe. There 
have always been, for one great artist, a hundred superfluities who practised 
art, but so long as a great tradition (and therefore great art) endured even these 
achieved something worthy. We can forgive this hundred for existing, for in 
the ensemble of the tradition they were the footing for the individual great man. 
But to-day we have only these superfluities, and ten thousand of them, working 
art Tor a living' (as if that were a justification!). One thing is quite certain, that 
to-day every single art-school could be shut down without art being affected in 
the slightest. We can learn all we wish to know about the art-clamour which a 
megalopolis sets up in order to forget that its art is dead from the Alexandria 
of the year 200. There, as here in our world-cities, we find a pursuit of illusions 
of artistic progress, of personal peculiarity, of 'the new style 1 , of 'unsuspected 
possibilities', theoretical babble, pretentious fashionable artists, weight-lifters 
with cardboard dumb-bells - the 'Literary Man' in the Poet's place, the 
unabashed farce of Expressionism which the art-trade has organized as a 'phase 
of art-history', thinking and feeling and forming as industrial art. Alexandria, 
too, had problem-dramatists and box-office artists whom it preferred to So- 
phocles, and painters who invented new tendencies and successfully bluffed their 
public. What do we possess to-day as 'art'? A faked music, filled with artificial 
noisiness of massed instruments; a faked painting, full of idiotic, exotic and 
showcard effects, that every ten years or so concocts out of the form-wealth of 
millennia some new 'style' which is in fact no style at all since everyone does 
as he pleases; a lying plastic that steals from Assyria, Egypt and Mexico 
indifferently. Yet this and only this, the taste of the 'man of the world', can 
be accepted as the expression and sign of the age. [. . .] 

4 Carlo Carra (1881-1966) c Our Antiquity' 

Originally a Futurist painter, Carra came to reject the avant-garde vehemently, embrac- 
ing instead a notion of the persistence of eternal values embodied in the classical 
tradition in art. After a meeting with de Chirico in 1917 he was involved in the promotion 
°f a 'Metaphysical School' of Italian painters. Composed between 1916 and 1918, this 
essay was originally published in Carra's Pittura Metafisica, Florence, 1919. The present 
translation by C. Tisdall is taken from M. Carra, Metaphysical Art, New York 1971. 



230 Rationalization and Transformation 

Whatever else will our contemporaries find to reproach us with! And yet, if w e 
too had forgotten our origins we would certainly be praised, but we would no 
longer be fit to carry out works of uncontaminated will. 

Our ancient character is firmly rooted in severe law, almost as if to vegetate 
more comfortably in modern reality without destroying it. 

Admittedly, it would at times be pleasant to leave this state of inebriation. i n 
which we live, were it not for the magic link which holds us bound to our poor 
'savage gods'. 

The hot winds of history arouse this spiritual disposition for new and 
profound things. They hint of calm music. The game becomes serious, my 
friends, and to sing this music too freely could also be dangerous. 

We never knew 'indifference', but now our spasmodic passions have ceased 
to preach. We prefer to conceal ourselves from the eyes of the profane. W r e are 
alone in the profundity of our epoch, alone with our sin, and with our study. 

By a strange anarchical paradox we have returned, almost without wishing to 
do so, to pure classicism. 

What was it that breathed in our ears the sound of so many things we believed 
to be dead? 

The truth is that we know of no greater happiness than that of listening to 
ourselves. 

What is this feeling that provokes in us the jealousy that a thought of ours 
may tomorrow belong to many men, a jealousy greater than that provoked by 
the thought that our woman may cease to be ours? 

If we too had reduced the spirit of art to a convenient calculation of algebra 
and daily bread, we would perhaps feel more secure, but also more mortified 
than we do. The enjoyments of easily-conquered paradises always leave us 
indifferent. 

We too have sung the praise of the western orgies; then we felt it permissible 
to receive our brothers 1 indecision with the tenderness befitting our democratic 
habits. But now we have become more cautious, and no longer tolerate the riots 
which ambitious and disturbed people denominate 'artistic movements'. These 
villains always ensnare incautious youth, which, eager to make itself felt, fails 
to realize that its youthful adventurousness is prone to malevolence and un- 
grateful obduracy. 

From this it can be discerned that we no longer wish to see ourselves 
confronted with uncertain premises. If it is not a sin of pride to do so, let us 
claim to have thrown overboard a good part of our corruptibility, or at least ot 
our own belief in lying prophecies. 

We have become aware of the truths that are said to be serious, and we do 
not accept that the veils have been lifted for the delight of the unworthy. It * s 
an illusion that one can force this on those who do not wish it, and he who 
tries to do so, demonstrates such candour that he is pardonable because the 
need to give vent to the passions that torment him is manifest. He is unlike 
us, for with experience we have lost this candour and believe most firmly that 
that which is particular to the individual can never belong to a generation. 



iiia Neo-Classicism and the Call to Order 231 

Che chameleon-like reproduction of visible reality is another ugly thing that 
£as been imported from outside. In places where painters were not used to 
condensation of the elements of the body, they could now surrender, with 
deceitful ardour, as if it were a liberation, to theories that were born and resolved 
without being completed. And it was thus that the painting of so-called effects 
$f light (which really concern only highly-strung stage electricians) came to be 
jccepted. 

r. What was needed was a return to the Italian idea of the original solidity of 
things, so that men would recognize the well-disguised deceit of the astute 
philosophies which are put into circulation with all the publicity necessary for 
tke triumph of an industrial product. 

€ But now that the inevitable intoxication has been slept off, matters are 
returning to a more determined state. In this way, linear delights will no longer 
fce disrupted by ecstatic rotations of colour and we will no longer be pushed 
towards trivial and trembling mobility and tumultuous surfaces. 

I The appearance of even the smallest bodies is no longer changed by ephemeral 
distractions, our ends are no longer resolved in light which cannot celebrate 
wight. 

»iThe aims will change and by means of a second, richer, more diffuse and 
^nscious transposition, reality will again be conceived with an inextinguishable 
-^Jpiritual ardour which will comply more persuasively with form. After this, 
■fillour, and the picture. 

$$ Combinations of the module will return in valiant opposition, and with them, 
iplie golden section, giving a more ample spatial breath. 

^ Tonal matter will be assembled homogeneously in all its immanent weight. 
^Internal discipline brings us to a more fulfilled significance, to a cubature 
Regnant with poetry. 
1^ And this is how we initiated the second period of our artistic development 

Vktr having confronted the public in the Italian theatres, and brawled in the 

Squares, for the advent of a new art. 

II Much water has flowed under the bridges of art, but the proprieties that 
preside over painting are yet to be clarified. They can be summarized in the 
fallowing impulses of the spirit: 

|) line (straight and curved in contrast) in proportional arrangements of indi- 
vidual forces, 
f) the local tone of aspects of reality (simultaneous relationship of chiaroscuro 

and chromatic colour), 
f $-. tne first stage of the form having been attained, to find the balance of the 
p? volumes; that is, the synthesis which constitutes the definitive order within 
;- the painting. Let us not forget that art cannot be only the immediate 
■:-h reflection of a sensation; neither must forms remain as merely raw external 
J ;).»,- expressions of the reality that surrounds us, or be limited to arresting the 
shadows of vibratorv movement. 



232 Rationalization and Transformation 

Let us have creation, not the imitation of phenomena. Certain slight nervou s 
stimuli make us smile; we can no longer mistake them for real spiritual joy. 

The mislaid necessities of style are returning, or rather are reborn; and the 
artist, with greater purity than before, proclaims them irrefutably present. 

Never has this problem been felt to be so important as it is today by those 
who are exponents of the collective spirit. It is the law of realization that presides 
over artistic representation. And so, say what you will, to reduce painting to a 
realistic recognition of human and natural appearances is almost equivalent to 
a disregard of the superior aims of art. 

Artistic creation involves a watchful, diligent and attentive will, and demands 
a continued effort to prevent the 'apparitions' from being overlooked. Artistic 
creation, which is satisfaction of the imagination and intellect, is destined to 
stimulate in the beholder a particular meaning and a repetition of that satisfac- 
tion felt by the artist. 
* * * 

Let it not be thought, however, that we wish to isolate the problem of national 
art from the finality of European - universal - order, on which every artistic 
problem is directly dependent. We will dwell in detail on the task that the 
young are called to perform, a grave responsibility for anyone conscious of the 
situation in which Italian art, for various reasons, finds itself. To try to analyse 
these reasons could be to fall into the error of a man dissecting the human body 
in the hope of discovering not only the law of life but also that of human emotion. 

On the other hand, to run joyously towards certain intoxications, shouting 
iong live' or 'down with' according to one's sympathies or antipathies, is to 
lose contact with the concreteness of things. It therefore follows, if one cannot 
reasonably isolate the examination of a single part without considering the idea 
imparted by the parts, that one cannot form a general idea without considering 
its particular effects. Whether one proceeds from the general to the particular, 
or vice versa, whether one proceeds by synthesis or analysis, every artistic 
problem must be seen as connected in all its parts and with its necessary unity. 

But we know that in the sum of experiences there arise so many new and 
unforeseen elements that unity either cannot be attained, or makes itself manifest 
in unexpected ways. 

In aesthetic activity more than in any other human activity, one never attains 
the end one sets out to reach. But in days of great aesthetic disorganization, 
any support is good. Today, for men of imagination, tendencies of equal falsity 
contend for supremacy at the crossroads of obscure directions. 

Light as a fountain, spiritualization slowly comes; but those who wish to 
understand are not intimidated by adverse forces. 

We are no longer constrained by physical illuminations to play at blind man s 
buff with our thoughts. This is the theory of the card players who when the} 
want spades and see clubs turn up, change their tactics. 

It is easy to throw hurried accents into a mess of hypotheses of doubtfu 
taste, or to outline improvised figures without clarity, precision or control. Bu 
even if there are infinite ways of erring, there is only one way to work correctrv* 



IHa Neo-Classicism and the Call to Order 233 

jjye are not concerned with an intimate and objective examination of a definitive 
;|§fforni, because nothing is definitive, but with a form of art as yet scarcely 

Sketched in, simple and elementary. And rather than a norm we set out to 

^provide a suggestion in generic terms. 

|t Nevertheless, the choice of new criteria and postulates is already a guarantee 

Hgf seriousness and probity, if not yet a demonstration of new constructions of 

Sforms hitherto sought and imagined and invoked in vain. 

1; But one could already demonstrate with readily accessible facts that meta- 
physical painting is nothing but an intuitive development of that which preceded 
it, and in actual fact it perhaps represents the first, imprecise, ideal projection; 
the first steps on intractable soil; an uncontrollable desire to go beyond purely 
sensory and materialistic forms, however superfluous it may seem to us to claim 
the roots of this form of art in the Italian tradition. We do not wish to base 
$ny claim on the future, because art, like history, passes through successive 
Stages, though this does not alter its profound essence, and it carries the future 
fithin it. 

As can be seen, we do not rest our case on originality, but rather on the discovery 
of origins which will lead to the achievement of rigorous and immutable forms. 

"■■■;■* * * 

;;i[. . .] Perhaps this word [originality] constitutes the greatest and most dis- 
%iieting misunderstanding to emerge from the workshops of the artistic peas- 
jfef&try in these recent years. 

|i It is bitter for the sensitive man to see how arrogance, ostentation, frivolity, 
; facuity, wantonness and every excess nowadays are the most positive charac- 
teristics of today's artists. 

5 b From this arises the reciprocal concern shown by today's painters for surpas- 
tbig each other in the incessant invention of new styles, supposing that they 
can capture the admiration of the public by such artifice, and neglecting the 
fcnprovement of their real creative faculty; their output is consequently closer 
& bizarre eccentricity than to the real imagination which neither tires the mind 
aor diverts the attention from the substantial aims of art. 
'And it is precisely this pitiful mania for seeming original that prevents 
contemporary painters from realizing the varied graces of linear relationships, 
so essential in the production of that magic enchantment which used to be 
^miliar to the painter. 

So it happens that, while on the one hand we consider irksome the closed 
orders, the arthritic systems and the dead forms which the good old Academy's 
Hiles seek to put back into circulation, on the other we must rebuke the young 
Painters who are neglecting the most elementary awareness and absolutely every 
Necessity of study to follow their own fatuous whims; because in the last resort 
*e should never forget that he who refrains from study of the great masters 
through fear of losing his native sensibility, will only succeed in creating a form 
°f art without roots and without real excellence. 

It would be as if someone claimed that it is possible to become a great poet 
Without having any appreciation at all of language. 
Even the earth would produce only wild plants, if the farmer's care and toil 



234 Rationalization and Transformation 

did not put it in condition to receive the seeds and participate in the nourish- 
ment of delicate produce. 

This is what happens to the painter as long as he ignores the precious 
contribution made by the great masters over the centuries. He who fears to lose 
his native poetic sense should not devote himself to art or poetry, since these 
presuppose a knowledge of historical development and of the informative laws 
of expression. 



5 Leonce Rosenberg (1881-1947) 'Tradition and 
Cubism' 

Rosenberg replaced Kahnweiler as the principal dealer involved in Cubism. He partic- 
ularly supported the 'rationalized' developments of the Parisian avant-garde in the 
post-war period through his gallery, the Gaierie de I'Effort Moderne, and the accompa- 
nying publication, the Bulletin de I'Effort Moderne. The present text was originally 
published in the organ of the Metaphysical School, Valori Plastici, Rome, February- 
March 1919. This translation is from E. Fry (ed.), Cubism, New York and London, 1966. 

Taking no account of accident, pushing aside anecdote, neglecting the particular, 
the 'cubist' artists tend towards the constant and the absolute. Instead of 
reconstituting an aspect of nature, they seek to construct the plastic equivalents 
of natural objects, and the pictorial fact so constituted becomes an aspect created 
by the mind. The construction realised in this way has not a comparative value 
but a strictly intrinsic value, or, to use a Platonic phrase, is 'beautiful in itself. 
There is nothing arbitrary in its architecture; on the contrary, everything in 
it is the consequence of a feeling, and is subject to the eternal laws of 
equilibrium. 

To make a picture, the artist begins by choosing and grouping certain elements 
from external reality; in other words by synthesis he draws from some object 
the elements - forms and colours - necessary to the assembling of his subject. 
The transition from object to subject constitutes his aesthetic, which is governed 
by the mind. After this, to pass from the subject to the work, he employs a 
variety of means proper to the expression of his subject; this process constitutes 
his technique, and it is inspired by emotion. This effort defies analysis; it carries 
within itself all the mystery of Art. The final result is the picture, whose 
emanation is Beauty. 



6 Giorgio de Chirico (1888-1978) 'The Return to the 
Craft 1 

De Chirico suffered a breakdown during the war. After a one-man show in Rome in 1919 
he became increasingly preoccupied with the technical methods of earlier Italian paint- 
ing. This essay, concluding with an affirmation in Latin of his status as a classical 
painter, was first published as II ritorno al mestiere' in Valori Plastici, Rome, November- 



^, iiia Neo-Classicism and the Call to Order 235 

f; pecember 1919. The present extract is taken from the translation in Carra, op, cit. 

By now it is quite apparent: the painters who have been agitating for half a 
century, who have been racking their brains to invent schools and systems, who 
jiave sweated with the continual effort of seeming original, of presenting their 
personalities, now hide like rabbits behind the banner of multifarious fancy- 
"work, and press ahead the latest defence of their ignorance and impotence: the 
pretence of spirituality. (This is an uncontrollable phenomenon, but only for 
the majority, including the writers on art; a few intelligent men, whom you and 
J know, are capable of understanding of what this spirituality consists and of 
.esteeming it for what it is worth.) These painters, then, are returning prudently, 

v with outstretched hands like men walking in the dark, towards an art less obstructed 
jby fancy-work, towards clearer and more concrete forms, and towards surfaces that 
pin testify without too many equivocations, just what one knows and what one can 
do. In my opinion this is a good sign. Such a turn of events was inevitable. 
i, It is curious to note how this return came about. It was effectuated with 
prudence, or to be plain, with fear. It seems that the painters feared that in 
going back, they would stumble and fall into the same snares and traps that 
they themselves had laid during the previous advance. Such fear is justified by 
*the fact that they are unarmed, vulnerable and weak. While returning it is 
ipecessary, too, that they grasp hold of a few of those same fancy tricks: that 

( Jthey make use of the shields they used during the advance. And so the great 
problem that terrifies them most in this return is that of the human figure. 
s Man who with his canons rises again like a spectre in front of man. 
^ The neglect of anthropomorphic representation, and the deformation of it, 
.encouraged entire legions of painters to turn out stupid and facile reproductions. 
/With its return the problem of animal-man looms larger and more terrible than 
.$ver, since, this time, the right weapons to confront it are lacking, or rather they 
*re in existence, but they are blunt, and many have forgotten how to u^e them. 

These painters can no longer hide behind the excuse of primitive artifice. 
1 The case of the penitent painter of today is tragic, but amidst such puerile 
confusion there is also a comic side to it that encourages an ironic smile from 
beneath the observer's moustache. 
* * * 

To return to the craft! This will not be easy and will demand time and toil. 
The schools and the masters are deficient, or rather they are vilified by the 
colouristic riot that has invaded Europe in this half-century. The academies 
exist, full of methods and systems, but, alas, what results they produce! What 
°n earth would the weakest student of 1600 say if he could see a masterpiece 
«y a professore of an Italian academv, or bv a cher maitre of the Ecole des 
iBeaux-Arts of Paris? [. . .] 

r 9 * * 

'"; [•..] This is the point we have reached. This is the state of confusion, 

ignorance and overwhelming stupidity in the midst of which the very few 

Painters whose brains are clear and whose eyes are clean are preparing to return 

t( > pictorial science following the principles and teachings of our old masters. 



236 Rationalization and Transformation 

Their first lesson was drawing; drawing, the divine art, the foundation of every 
plastic construction, skeleton of every good work, eternal law that every artifice 
must follow. Drawing, ignored, neglected and deformed by all modern painters 
(I say all, including the decorators of parliamentary halls and the various 
professors of the realm), drawing, I say, will return not as a fashion as those 
who talk of artistic events are accustomed to say, but as an inevitable necessity, 
as a condition sine qua non of good creation. 'Un tableau bien dessine est toujours 
assez bien peint\ said Jean Dominique Ingres, and I think he knew more about 
it than all the modern painters. Just as in elections voters are exhorted to g 
to the polls, we, who were the first to set a good example in painting, summon 
those painters who have been or can be redeemed to go to the statues. Yes, to 
the statues to learn the nobility and the religion of drawing, to the statues to 
dehumanize you a little, you who in spite of all your puerile devilries were still 
too human. If you lack the time and the means to go and copy in the sculpture 
museums, if the academies have not yet adopted the system of shutting the 
future painter up for at least five years in a room in which there is nothing but 
marble and plaster statues, if the dawn of laws and canons has not yet arisen, 
have patience; and meanwhile, so as not to lose time, buy a plaster copy - 
thought it need not be a reproduction of an antique masterpiece. Buy your 
plaster copy, and then in the silence of your room copy it ten, twenty, a hundred 
times. Copy it until you manage to produce a satisfying work, to draw a hand 
or a foot in such a way that if they were to come alive miraculously, the bones, 
muscles, nerves and tendons would all be correct. 

To return to the craft, our painters must be extremely diligent in the 
perfection of their means: canvas, colours, brushes, oils and varnishes must be 
of the highest quality. Colours, unfortunately, are of very poor quality nowadays 
because the roguery and immorality of the manufacturers and the modern 
painters' mania for speed have encouraged the distribution of very poor pro- 
ducts, since no painter was likely to protest. It would be a good thing if painters 
again took up the habit of making their own canvas and colours. Rather more 
patience and effort is necessary: but, when the painter has understood once and 
for all that the execution of a painting is not a thing to be carried out in the 
shortest possible time, a thing merely to be exhibited or sold to a dealer; when 
he has understood that the same painting should be worked on for months, even 
years, until it is completely smooth and polished; and until the painter's 
conscience is completely clear; when he has understood this he will not find it 
difficult to sacrifice a few hours a day to the preparation of his own canvases 
and colours. He will do it with care and with love, it will cost him less, and 
will provide him with safer and more consistent colours. 

When this transformation comes about, the finest painters, who will be 
considered the masters, will be able to exert control and act as judges and 
inspectors for the minor painters. It would be wise to adopt the discipline 
current in the era of the great Flemish painters who, united in societies, used 
to elect a president who had the power to inflict punishments, to impose fines 
and even to expel from the society a painter who was guilty of negligence or 
who had used inferior materials. 



IHa Neo-Classicism and the Call to Order 237 

When Ingres painted, he had within reach one hundred paintbrushes of the 
finest quality, perfectly washed and dried and ready for use the moment the 
artist needed them. Today our avant-garde boasts of using a couple of rough 
decorator's brushes, clogged with dried paint, hard and never washed. [. . .] 
* * * 

As far as material and craft are concerned, futurism dealt the final blow to 
Italian painting. Even before the advent of futurism it was navigating murky 
waters, but the futurist revels made the bucket overflow. 

Now night falls on everything. We have reached the second half of the 
parabola. Hysteria and roguery are condemned. I think that by now we are all 
satiated with roguery, whether it be political, literary, or painterly. With the 
sunset of hysteria more than one painter will return to the craft, and those who 
have already done so can work with freer hands, and their work will be more 
adequately recognized and recompensed. 

As for me, I am calm, and I decorate myself with three words that I wish to 
be the seal of all my work: Pictor classicus sum. 



f Charles Edouard Jeanneret (Le Corbusier) 
1 (1887-1965) and Amedee Ozenfant (1886-1966) 
'Purism' 

|fie authors met in late 1917 whereupon Jeanneret, trained as an architect and 
*aughtsman, also took up painting. In November 1918 they jointly published After 
Cubism (Apres le Cubisme), developing the ideas broached in Ozenfant's 'Notes on 
feubism' of 1916. In 1920 they founded the review L'Espht Nouveau to promote a 
llturn, within the avant-garde, to principles of classical order. 'Purism', a comprehensive 
statement of these principles, was published in the fourth issue of 1920, pp. 369-86. 
The present extracts are taken from the first English translation in R. L. Herbert, Modern 
Artists on Art, New York, 1964. 

Introduction 

Logic, born of human constants and without which nothing is human, is an 
instrument of control and, for he who is inventive, a guide toward discovery; 
it controls and corrects the sometimes capricious march of intuition and permits 
°ne to go ahead with certainty. 

v It is the guide that sometimes precedes and sometimes follows the explorer; 
yut without intuition it is a sterile device; nourished by intuition, it allows one 
to dance in his fetters.' 

f Nothing is worthwhile which is not general, nothing is worthwhile which is 
fot transmittable. We have attempted to establish an esthetic that is rational, 
*nd therefore human, [. . .] 

^he Work of Art 

*ne work of art is an artificial object which permits the creator to place the 



238 Rationalization and Transformation 

spectator in the state he wishes; later we will study the means the creator has 
at his disposal to attain this result. 

With regard to man, esthetic sensations are not all of the same degree of intensity 
or quality; we might say that there is a hierarchy. 

The highest level of this hierarchy seems to us to be that special state of a 
mathematical sort to which we are raised, for example, by the clear perception 
of a great general law (the state of mathematical lyricism, one might say); it i s 
superior to the brute pleasure of the senses; the senses are involved, however, 
because every being in this state is as if in a state of beatitude. 

The goal of art is not simple pleasure, rather it partakes of the nature of 
happiness. 

It is true that plastic art has to address itself more directly to the senses than 
pure mathematics which only acts by symbols, these symbols sufficing to trigger 
in the mind consequences of a superior order; in plastic art, the senses should 
be strongly moved in order to predispose the mind to the release into play of 
subjective reactions without which there is no work of art. But there is no art 
worth having without this excitement of an intellectual order, of a mathematical 
order; architecture is the art which up until now has most strongly induced the 
states of this category. The reason is that everything in architecture is expressed 
by order and economy. 

The means of executing a work of art is a transmittable and universal language. 

One of the highest delights of the human mind is to perceive the order of nature 
and to measure its own participation in the scheme of things; the work of art seems 
to us to be a labor of putting into order, a masterpiece of human order. 

Now the world only appears to man from the human vantage point, that is, 
the world seems to obey the laws man has been able to assign to it; when man 
creates a work of art, he has the feeling of acting as a 'god ' 

Now a law is nothing other than the verification of an order. 

In summary, a work of art should induce a sensation of a mathematical order, 
and the means of inducing this mathematical order should be sought among 
universal means. 



System 

* * * 

Man and organized beings are products of natural selection. In every evolution 
on earth, the organs of beings are more and more adapted and purified, and 
the entire forward march of evolution is a function of purification. The human 
body seems to be the highest product of natural selection. 

When examining these selected forms, one finds a tendency toward certain 
identical aspects, corresponding to constant functions, functions which are ot 
maximum efficiency, maximum strength, maximum capacity, etc., that is, maxi- 
mum economy. ECONOMY is the law of natural selection. 

It is easy to calculate that it is also the great law which governs what we wiH 
call 'mechanical selection.' 




iiia Neo-Classicism and the Call to Order 239 

p." rt .Mechanical selection began with the earliest times and from those times 
jtfovided objects whose general laws have endured; only the means of making 
^jem changed, the rules endured. 

?|lin all ages and with all people, man has created for his use objects of prime 
2^ecessity which responded to his imperative needs; these objects were associated 
g^jth his organism and helped complete it. In all ages, for example, man has 
Sweated containers: vases, glasses, bottles, plates, which were built to suit the 
fgggeds of maximum capacity, maximum strength, maximum economy of mater- 
ials, maximum economy of effort. In all ages, man has created objects of 
transport: boats, cars; objects of defense: arms; objects of pleasure: musical 
instruments, etc., all of which have always obeyed the law of selection: economy. 
One discovers that all these objects are true extensions of human limbs and 
$re, for this reason, of human scale, harmonizing both among themselves and 
fith man. 

H The machine was born in the last century. The problem of selection was 

Ipsed more imperatively than ever (commercial rivalry, cost price); one might 

iy that the machine has led fatally to the strictest respect for, and application 

$f, the laws of economy. [. . .] 

■-""Modern mechanization would appear to have created objects decidedly remote 

from what man had hitherto known and practiced. It was believed that he had 

, '.^Aus retreated from natural products and entered into an arbitrary order; our 

€ipoch decries the misdeeds of mechanization. We must not be mistaken, this is 

§i complete error: the machine has applied with a rigor greater than ever the 

UJfhysical laws of the world's structure. [. . .] 

||vFrom all this comes a fundamental conclusion: that respect for the laws of 
sics and of economy has in every age created highly selected objects; that 
>e objects contain analogous mathematical curves with deep resonances; that 
se artificial objects obey the same laws as the products of natural selection 
tyd that, consequently, there thus reigns a total harmony, bringing together the 
only two things that interest the human being: himself and what he makes. 
, Both natural selection and mechanical selection are manifestations of purifi- 
cation. 

^From this it would be easy to conclude that the artist will again find elitist 
femes in the objects of natural and mechanical selection. As it happens, artists 
Of our period have taken pleasure in ornamental art and have chosen ornamented 
Ejects. 

A work of art is an association, a symphony of consonant and architectured 
wins, in architecture and sculpture as well as in painting. 

To use as theme anything other than the objects of selection, for example, 
Ejects of decorative art, is to introduce a second symphony into the first; it 
Ipuld be redundant, surcharged, it would diminish the intensity and adulterate 
ffc quality of the emotion. 

a^vf all recent schools of painting, only Cubism foresaw the advantages of 
JNosing selected objects, and of their inevitable associations. But, by a para- 
doxical error, instead of sifting out the general laws of these objects, Cubism 
**% showed their accidental aspects, to such an extent that on the basis of this 



240 Rationalization and Transformation 

erroneous idea it even re-created arbitrary and fantastic forms. Cubism made 
square pipes to associate with matchboxes, and triangular bottles to associate 
with conical glasses. 

From this critique and all the foregoing analyses, one comes logically to the 
necessity of a reform, the necessity of a logical choice of themes, and the 
necessity of their association not by deformation, but by formation. 

If the Cubists were mistaken, it is because they did not seek out the invariable 
constituents of their chosen themes, which could have formed a universal, 
transmittable language. 



Purism 

The highest delectation of the human mind is the perception of order, and the 
greatest human satisfaction is the feeling of collaboration or participation in this 
order. The work of art is an artificial object which lets the spectator be placed 
in the state desired by the creator. The sensation of order is of a mathematical 
quality. The creation of a work of art should utilize means for specified results. 
Here is how we have tried to create a language possessing these means: 

Primary forms and colors have standard properties (universal properties which 
permit the creation of a transmittable plastic language). But the utilization of 
primary forms does not suffice to place the spectator in the sought-for state of 
mathematical order. For that one must bring to bear the associations of natural 
or artificial forms, and the criterion for their choice is the degree of selection 
at which certain elements have arrived (natural selection and mechanical selec- 
tion). The Purist element issued from the purification of standard forms is not 
a copy, but a creation whose end is to materialize the object in all its generality 
and its invariability. Purist elements are thus comparable to words of carefully 
defined meaning; Purist syntax is the application of constructive and modular 
means; it is the application of the laws which control pictorial space. A painting 
is a whole (unity); a painting is an artificial formation which, by appropriate 
means, should lead to the objectification of an entire 'world.' One could make 
an art of allusions, an art of fashion, based upon surprise and the conventions 
of the initiated. Purism strives for an art free of conventions which will utilize 
plastic constants and address itself above all to the universal properties of the 
senses and the mind. 



8 Albert Gleizes (1881-1953) 'The Dada Case' 

The author's pre-war Cubism was affected by the post-war 'call to order'. He represents 
here a response to the criticism mounted by Dada of the classical principles and tn 
bourgeois social order from which they were held to derive. Notably, however, ni 
response is made as a defence, not of that social order, but of eternal principles, i 
its adherents it was t'esprit nouveau' that was progressive, Dada a manifestation o 
the decay of bourgeois society. Originally published in Action, no. 3, Paris, April 19^- 



IIIa Neo-Classicism and the Call to Order 241 



fjhe present translation is taken from R. Motherwell (ed.), The Dada Painters and Poets, 
,i|ewYork, 1951. 

,.-."|,. •] It cannot for one moment be denied that we are now at a great 
\|urning-point in the history of mankind. In every country a hierarchy, the 
hierarchy of bourgeois capitalism, is crumbling, powerless to recapture the reins 
^ power. Events have proved stronger than men, and men are being tossed this 
^ay and that, with very little idea of what is happening. The political parties 
J^om the extreme right to the extreme left continue to accuse one another of 
every crime. They cannot get it into their heads that responsibility is an idle 
word when applied to man, and that superior forces which scientific investiga- 
tions have not succeeded in fathoming act upon the species far more strongly 
|han any supposed individual will. This bourgeois hierarchy which has organized 
the economic system on a material plane sees nothing but its threatened class 
Interests. It has reached such a degree of impotence that it can no longer 
gpnceive of a system which might provide a safety valve for the ever-mounting 
jjjressure in the lower parts of its organism. On the contrary, it constantly 
increases the pressure, having lost all conception of a possible breaking-point. 
g On the material plane this bourgeois hierarchy is already dead; what we see 
|jow is the decomposition of its corpse. The movement with which it still seems 
|p be endowed is merely the wriggling of the worms that are devouring it, and 

.-... ;^e glow which prevents the night from being complete is the phosphorescence 
jhat we know as the will-o'-the-wisp. 
^ Here let it be understood that 'bourgeois hierarchy' is not meant in any 

|gj§magogic sense. The mania for classification has created certain distinctions 

ftjose reality is purely an appearance, and our demagogues use them as a basis 
r telling the lower classes that they have nothing in common with the upper 
Jesses. If they do this for reasons of strategy, it is understandable, but if they 
Ji£ simple-minded enough to believe what they say, it's too bad for them. The 
bourgeoisie is the expression of a human leaning towards the bestial enjoyment 
*>f material realities. And as the division of wealth - an economic conception - 
is based on money, it is to the power of money that the goods of this world 
belong. In the human struggle, those who have this power are on top, those 
who do not possess it but who have the same desire to possess it for the same 
fin ds, are on the bottom. Consequently the bourgeois spirit is not peculiar to 
a |*y special class, but is common to the whole of society. The last scavenger of 
$garette butts has the same impulses as the financier who makes peace or war, 
3H that separates them is a simple matter of realization. 

* The collapse of the money-base and the increasing shortage of goods - these 

** the factors that are undermining the whole social organism. The cataclysm 

-#eems inevitable. There will be nothing ideological about it. From the point 

view of the human consciousness, it will be quite simply a rebellion of 

*te stomach and an exasperation of the desire to enjoy life. And indeed, every 

..-™f s of our decomposing society is characterized by an urge toward the 

; : ; ^sfaction of every physical desire, and by a total lack of constructiveness or 

; -^ganization. 



242 Rationalization and Transformation 

This engulfing materialism, which is so typical of our bourgeois society, quite 
naturally prevents us from paying serious attention to the disintegration on the 
spiritual plane, since spiritual values are what count least in a regime of this 
sort and the word spiritual has taken on an air of waggish insignificance, living 
on services rendered and on jokes. 

However, it is by juxtaposing the rot on the material plane with the rot on 
the spiritual plane that we shall gain an accurate understanding of the Dada 
movement. I am even prepared to say that it is easier to follow the course of 
this movement than that of the material crisis. Its organism is simpler than the 
complex of material forces. 

The decomposing material body of the bourgeois hierarchy has its counterpart 
in the decomposition of its spiritual values. The material body returns to dust, 
the spirit returns to the void. The Dada movement is not the voluntary work 
of individuals; it is the fatal product of a state of affairs. 

* * * 

At the source of the Dada spirit, we find an adroit utilization of spiritual 
values once combatted, but now grown fashionable. Then various new impulses 
brought a sudden revelation. The need to be first became a dogmatic tenet, 
bringing with it further madness. And to these diverse psychological states 
correspond a series of pathological states. The abuse of pleasures of all sorts 
brings the search for artificial stimulation of the senses, to the lashing of the 
nervous system with liquor and drugs. Result: the total loss of control over the 
physical organism. 

Prior to this stage, what does the individual offer? An intellectual suppleness, 
yes, but no extraordinary sensibility; a certain savoir-faire but nothing to suggest 
any latent constructive temperament. During this stage and after, he has the 
illusion of being liberated from the physical laws that govern us. This is a 
familiar adjunct of the hypnosis induced by drugs, but it is more serious when 
the illusion is prolonged past the crisis. It is at this moment that the domain 
of Dada opens. The impossibility of constructing, of organizing anything 
whatsoever, the absence of even the most confused notion of any such construc- 
tion, has led Dada to decree that there is no such thing and that the only 
solution is to do anything, no matter what, under the guise of instinct. 

* * * 

Their only certainties derive from an exasperation of the bourgeois conception 
of art, essentially individualistic and hence reserved for a few of the initiate. 
Carrying this principle to its absurd conclusion, they shut themselves up in 
themselves. The presentation of the Dada work is always full of taste, the 
paintings reveal charming colors, all very fashionable, the books and magazines 
are always delightfully made up and rather recall the catalogues of perfume 
manufacturers. There is nothing in the outward aspect of these productions to 
offend anyone at all; all is correctness, good form, delicate shading, etc. . . . 

The forms in their art work are likewise inoffensive, the grafitti they draw 
are quite proper. The texts are so impenetrable that there can be no possible 
ground for indignation. Sometimes a choice of words creates a lively and 
felicitous image. What they call instinct is anything that passes through their 




IIIa Neo-Classicism and the Call to Order 243 

beads, and from time to time something quite nice passes through their heads. 
This is no more surprising than to find a certain suggestion of organization in 
accidental cloud formations. 

-But very soon we become aware of the dominants, the leit-motivs which recur 
fa their artistic and literary works. And then the pathological case becomes 
brutally evident. Their minds are forever haunted by a sexual delirium and a 
scatalogical frenzy. Their morbid fantasy runs riot around the genital apparatus 
f either sex. There is real joy in their discovery of their own sex and the 
feminine sex. Though they deny everything a priori, we must, in spite of that 
denial, which strikes me as somewhat premature, recognize that they are full of 
conviction when it comes to those ornaments with which babies are made and 
which they so love to toy with. They are obsessed with the organs of repro- 
duction to such a degree that those of their works which may possibly reveal 
genius are inevitably of a genital character. Moreover, by lingering in these 
domains, they have found, perhaps without seeking it, another source of 
instinctive inspiration. They have discovered the anus and the by-products of 
intestinal activity. And their joy, already great, was further augmented. Pro- 
gressing from one discovery to another, they announce their triumph to all 
comers. They make marbles with fecal matter, they gallop over it, they run 
probing fingers through it. This is a phenomenon well known to psychiatrists. 
They confuse excrement with the products of the mind. They use the same 
word to designate two different things. 

* * * 

* Dada claims to discredit art by its agitation. But one can no more discredit 
art, which is the manifestation of an imperious impulsion of the instinct, than 
<me can discredit human society, which also springs from an imperious impulsion 
of the instinct. One can no more discredit art by systematically destroying its 
faiues, than one can discredit society by a fraudulent international bankruptcy. 
What Dada destroys, without assuming responsibility for its acts, is certain 
notions of servitude which would vanish very nicely without its help; since what 
fc destroying the bourgeois hierarchy on the material plane is its false conception 
«f the distribution of social wealth. And that is why Dada, in the last analysis, 
represents merely the ultimate decomposition of the spiritual values of that 
decomposed bourgeois hierarchy. [. . .] 



9 Andre Derain (1880-1954) 'On Raphael' 

Though Derain had been a leading member of the pre-war avant-garde, like many other 
^tists he turned increasingly to classicism during and after the war. His affirmation of 
"lis conservative commitment appears in a statement originally published as 'Sur 
Raphael' in L'Espr/t Nouveau, no. 3, Paris, December 1920, from which the present 
translation is made. 

Raphael is the most widely misunderstood of artists! Raphael is not a master 
0r tn e young: he cannot be the founder of a school made up of beginners. The 



244 Rationalization and Transformation 

only way to approach Raphael is after many disappointments. If one departs 
from him, it is a disaster; he is a genius capable of spoiling the greatest. There 
are distressing examples of this. Besides, his influence was non-existent for more 
than a century; we are just emerging from a period in which one only sought 
direction from masters of the Dutch school. The recent reorganization of the 
Louvre is the happy proof that this time is past. Raphael is above da Vinci, 
who is a sound test of worth, and far from being divine has a taste for corruption. 
Raphael alone is divine! 



10 Percy Wyndham Lewis (1882-1957) The Children 
of the New Epoch' 

The author perceives that the war has put an end to 'blasting and bombardiering', to 
Vorticism, indeed to the apparent anarchy of the pre-war avant-garde tout court In its 
place he alludes to 'robustness', 'hygiene' and 'authority': terms which were to become 
familiar in conservative rhetoric, not least in the 'call to order' so influential in sections 
of the avant-garde. Originally published in The Tyro, no. 1 ( London, 1921. 

We are at the beginning of a new epoch, fresh to it, the first babes of a new, 
and certainly a better, day. The advocates of the order that we supersede are 
still in a great majority. The obsequies of the dead period will be protracted, 
and wastefully expensive. But it is nevertheless nailed down, cold, but with 
none of the calm and dignity of death. The post-mortem has shown it to be 
suffering from every conceivable malady. 

No time has ever been more carefully demarcated from the one it succeeds than 
the time we have entered on has been by the Great War of 1914-18. It is built 
solidly behind us. All the conflicts and changes of the last ten years, intellectual 
and other, are terribly symbolized by it. To us, in its immense meaningless 
shadow, it appears like a mountain range that has suddenly risen as a barrier, 
which should be interpreted as an indication of our path. There is no passage 
back across that to the lands of yesterday. Those for whom that yesterday means 
anything, whose interests and credentials are on the other side of that barrier, 
exhort us dully or frantically to scale that obstacle (largely built by their blunders 
and egotisms) and return to the Past. On the other hand, those whose interests 
lie all ahead, whose credentials are in the future, move in this abrupt shadow 
with satisfaction, forward, and away from the sealed and obstructed past. 

So we, then, are the creatures of a new state of human life, as different from 
nineteenth-century England, say, as the Renaissance was from the Middle Ages. 
We are, however, weak in numbers as yet, and to some extent, uncertain and 
untried. What steps are being taken for our welfare, how are we provided for. 
Are the next few generations going to produce a rickety crop of Newcomers, 
or is the new epoch to have a robust and hygienic start-off? 

A phenomenon we meet, and are bound to meet for some time, is the existence 
of a sort of No Man's Land atmosphere. The dead never rise up, and men will 
not return to the Past, whatever else they may do. But as yet there is Nothing, 




IIIa Neo-Claisicism and the Call to Order 245 

r rather the corpse of the past age, and the sprinkling of children of the new. 
There is no mature authority, outside of creative and active individual men, to 
support the new and delicate forces bursting forth everywhere today. 

So we have sometimes to entrench ourselves; but we do it with rage: and it 
is our desire to press constantly on to realization of what is, after all, our 
destined life. 



11 Juan Gris (1887-1927) Reply to a Questionnaire 

A leading member of the pre-war Cubist avant-garde, Gris here stresses the rational 
<bases of his art and its continuity with the classical tradition enshrined in the Louvre. 
These typically post-war claims were made in response to a questionnaire circulated 
by the editors of L'Esprit Nouveau, Jeanneret and Ozenfant. Originally published in 
VEsprit Nouveau, no. 5, Paris, February 1921, pp. 533-4. 

His aesthetic system: 'I work with elements of the spirit, with the imagination. 
I try to concretize that which is abstract. I go from the general to the particular; 

"that is to say, I depart from an abstraction to arrive at a real fact. My art is 
an art of synthesis, a deductive art, as Raynal says.' 
<I want to attain a new description. I want to be able to create special 

individuals by departing from a general type.' 

'I consider that the architectural side of painting is mathematical, the abstract 

r side; I want to humanize it. Cezanne created a cylinder from a bottle; for my 
part, I depart from the cylinder to create a special type of individual; I create 

T a bottle from a cylinder, a certain bottle. Cezanne heads towards architecture, 
whereas I depart from it. It's for this reason that I compose with abstractions 
(colours) and I determine when these colours have become objects; for example, 
I compose with black and white and I determine when the white has become a 
paper and the black a shadow; I mean that I fix the white so that it becomes 
4 J>aper, and the black to turn it into a shadow. This type of painting is to the 
other type what poetry is to prose.' 

( His method: 'If in the system I distance myself from all idealist and naturalist 
W, in method I do not want to escape from the Louvre, My method is the 

^perennial method, that which the masters used; these are the means, they are 
constant.' 




iiib Dissent and Disorder 247 



IIIB 

Dissent and Disorder 



1 Hugo Ball (1886-1927) 'Dada Fragments' 

Together with Emmy Hennings, Ball founded the Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich on 5 February 
1916. The aim, as he later declared, was 'to remind the world that there are independent 
men "beyond war and Nationalism" who live for other ideals'. These 'Fragments' and 
diary entries from 1916-17, originally published in BaW's book FluchtausderZeit (Flight 
from Time), Munich/Leipzig, 1927. The present translation is taken from Motherwell, The 
Dada Painters and Poets (op. cit). (The ellipses are integral.) 

March 12, 1916 - Introduce symmetries and rhythms instead of principles. 
Contradict the existing world orders . . . 

What we are celebrating is at once a buffoonery and a requiem mass . . . 

June 12, 1916 - What we call Dada is a harlequinade made of nothingness 
in which all higher questions are involved, a gladiator's gesture, a play with 
shabby debris, an execution of postured morality and plenitude . . . 

The Dadaist loves the extraordinary, the absurd, even. He knows that life 
asserts itself in contradictions, and that his age, more than any preceding it, 
aims at the destruction of all generous impulses. Every kind of mask is therefore 
welcome to him, every play at hide and seek in which there is an inherent power 
of deception. The direct and the primitive appear to him in the midst of this 
huge anti-nature, as being the supernatural itself. . . 

The bankruptcy of ideas having destroyed the concept of humanity to its very 
innermost strata, the instincts and hereditary backgrounds are now emerging 
pathologically. Since no art, politics or religious faith seems adequate to dam 
this torrent, there remain only the blague and the bleeding pose . . . 

The Dadaist trusts more in the sincerity of events than in the wit of persons. 
To him persons may be had cheaply, his own person not excepted. He no longer 
believes in the comprehension of things from one point of departure, but is 
nevertheless convinced of the union of all things, of totality, to such an extent 
that he suffers from dissonances to the point of self-dissolution . . . 



r fhe Dadaist fights against the death-throes and death-drunkenness of his 
•«•■&!&• Averse to every clever reticence, he cultivates the curiosity of one who 
\ gjpperiences delight even in the most questionable forms of insubordination. He 
!|$ows that this world of systems has gone to pieces, and that the age which 

^manded cash has organized a bargain sale of godless philosophies. Where bad 
foUiscience begins for the market-booth owners, mild laughter and mild kindli- 

ipgs begin for the Dadaist . . . 

^fune 13, 1916- The image differentiates us. Through the image we comprehend. 
#hatever it may be - it is night - we hold the print of it in our hands . . . 

A^flie word and the image are one. Painting and composing poetry belong 
f Jjgether. Christ is image and word. The word and the image are crucified . . . 

■^June 18, 1916 - We have developed the plasticity of the word to a point 
:|fcich can hardly be surpassed. This result was achieved at the price of the 
jically constructed, rational sentence, and therefore, also, by renouncing the 
cument (which is only possible by means of a time-robbing grouping of 
ntences in a logically ordered syntax). We were assisted in our efforts by the 
ecial circumstances of our age, which does not allow a real talent either to 
filst or ripen, forcing it to a premature test of its capacities, as well as by the 
^ionphatic elan of our group, whose members sought to surpass each other by 
..I'^ffiven greater intensification and accentuation of their platform. People may 
v : ^j$e, if they want to; language will thank us for our zeal, even if there should 
■J-«jpt be any directly visible results. We have charged the word with forces and 
y^ergies which made it possible for us to rediscover the evangelical concept of 
: < «/word' (logos) as a magical complex of images . . . 

t .November 21, 1916 - Note about a criticism of individualism: The accentuated 
gf^has constant interests, whether they be greedy, dictatorial, vain or lazy. It 
^yvays follows appetites, so long as it does not become absorbed in society. 
Ii-Whoever renounces his interests, renounces his 'I.' The T and the interests are 
Identical. Therefore, the individualistic-egoistic ideal of the Renaissance ripened 
o^the general union of the mechanized appetites which we now see before us, 
Impeding and disintegrating. 

^^ftlarch 30, 1917 - The new art is sympathetic because in an age of total 

;;^*uption it has conserved the will-to-the-image; because it is inclined to force 

• ; :$& image, even though the means and parts be antagonistic. Convention 

■ ^Himphs in the moralistic evaluation of the parts and details; art cannot be 

^>ncerned with this. It drives toward the in-dwelling, all-connecting life nerve; 

v^s indifferent to external resistance. One might also say: morals are withdrawn 

r *$Qm convention, and utilized for the sole purpose of sharpening the senses of 

|fteasure and weight . . . 

■-■&$* » * 

IH%**pril 18, 1917 ~ Perhaps the art which we are seeking is the key to every 
er art: a salomonic key that will open all mysteries. 




248 Rationalization and Transformation 

May 23, 1917 - Dadaism - a mask play, a burst of laughter? And behind it, a 
synthesis of the romantic, dandyistic and - daemonistic theories of the 1 9th century. 



2 Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968) 'The Richard Mutt Case' 

Duchamp, having abandoned painting and emigrated to America, began to produce 
'Readymades', works calculated to reveal, among their other effects, the workings of 
the art institution as inseparable from the attribution of artistic value. In 1917, under 
the pseudonym Richard Mutt, he submitted a urinal to an open sculpture exhibition; the 
piece was refused entry (as he no doubt intended). The present text was originally 
published in The Blind Man, New York, 1917. It is reproduced here from Lucy Lippard 
(ed.), Dadas on Art, New Jersey, 1971. 

They say any artist paying six dollars may exhibit. 

Mr Richard Mutt sent in a fountain. Without discussion this article disap- 
peared and never was exhibited. 

What were the grounds for refusing Mr Mutt's fountain: - 

1 Some contended it was immoral, vulgar. 

2 Others, it was plagiarism, a plain piece of plumbing. 

Now Mr Mutt's fountain is not immoral, that is absurd, no more than a 
bathtub is immoral. It is a fixture that you see every day in plumbers' show 
windows. 

Whether Mr Mutt with his own hands made the fountain or not has no 
importance. He CHOSE it. He took an ordinary article of life, placed it so that 
its useful significance disappeared under the new title and point of view - 
created a new thought for that object. 

As for plumbing, that is absurd. The only works of art America has given 
are her plumbing and her bridges. 



3 Tristan Tzara (1896-1963) 'Dada Manifesto 1918' 

Rumanian by birth, Tzara arrived in Zurich in 1915 where he participated in the Cabaret 
Voltaire. He later edited Dada, the most important of the French Dada reviews. The 
'Manifesto 1918' was originally read in Zurich on 23 July 1918. It was first published 
in Dada, no, 3, 1918 and reprinted in Sept Manifestes Dada, Paris, 1924. The present 
extract is taken from Motherwell, The Dada Painters and Poets (op. cit.). 

The magic of a word - Dada - which has brought journalists to the gates of a 
world unforeseen, is of no importance to us. 

To put out a manifesto you must want: ABC 

to fulminate against 1, 2, 3, 

to fly into a rage and sharpen your wings to conquer and disseminate little abcs 

and big abcs, to sign, shout, swear, to organize prose into a form of absolute 




IIIb Dissent and Disorder 249 

^d irrefutable evidence, to prove your non plus ultra and maintain that novelty 
*esembles life just as the latest-appearance of some whore proves the essence 
of God. His existence was previously proved by the accordion, the landscape, 
the wheedling word. To impose your ABC is a natural thing - hence deplorable. 
Everybody does it in the form of crystalbluffmadonna, monetary system, phar- 
Hiaceutical product, or a bare leg advertising the ardent sterile spring. The love 
of novelty is the cross of sympathy, demonstrates a naive je m'enfoutisme, it is 
at transitory, positive sign without a cause. 

r .JJut this need itself is obsolete. In documenting art on the basis of the supreme 
^nplicity: novelty, we are human and true for the sake of amusement, impulsive, 
Vibrant to crucify boredom. At the crossroads of the lights, alert, attentively 
£ awaiting the years, in the forest. I write a manifesto and I want nothing, yet I 
say certain things, and in principle I am against manifestoes, as I am also against 
principles (half-pints to measure the moral value of every phrase too too 
convenient; approximation was invented by the impressionists). I write this 
Kitnifesto to show that people can perform contrary actions together while taking 
one fresh gulp of air; I am against action; for continuous contradiction, for 
fffirmation too, I am neither for nor against and I do not explain because I 
hate common sense. [. . .] 
:h ■ ■ 

Dada Means Nothing 

H you find it futile and don't want to waste your time on a word that means 
t&thing. . . . The first thought that comes to these people is bacteriological in 
character: to find its etymological, or at least its historical or psychological 
Origin. We see by the papers that the Kru Negroes call the tail of a holy cow 
Qada. The cube and the mother in a certain district of Italy are called: Dada. 
A hobby horse, a nurse both in Russian and Rumanian: Dada. Some learned 
journalists regard it as an art for babies, other holy jesusescallingthelittlechildren 
$?our day, as a relapse into a dry and noisy, noisy and monotonous primitivism. 
Sensibility is not constructed on the basis of a word; all constructions converge 
#i perfection which is boring, the stagnant idea of a gilded swamp, a relative 
Hainan product. A work of art should not be beauty in itself, for beauty is dead; 
^Should be neither gay nor sad, neither light nor dark to rejoice or torture the 
dividual by serving him the cakes of sacred aureoles or the sweets of a vaulted 
&ce through the atmospheres. A work of art is never beautiful by decree, 
°kjectively and for all. Hence criticism is useless, it exists only subjectively, for 
**ch man separately, without the slightest character of universality. Does anyone 
*«ink he has found a psychic base common to all mankind? The attempt of 
Jssus and the Bible covers with their broad benevolent wings: shit, animals, 
7*ys. How can one expect to put order into the chaos that constitutes that 
Winite and shapeless variation: man? The principle: 'love thy neighbor' is a 
%pocrisy. 'Know thyself is Utopian but more acceptable, for it embraces 
: wkedness. No pity. After the carnage we still retain the hope of a purified 
^nkind. I speak only of myself since I do not wish to convince, I have no 
"to to drag others into my river, I oblige no one to follow me and everybody 



250 Rationalization and Transformation 

practices his art in his own way, if he knows the joy that rises like arrows to the 
astral layers, or that other joy that goes down into the mines of corpse-flowers 
and fertile spasms. Stalactites: seek them everywhere, in mangers magnified by 
pain, eyes white as the hares of the angels. 

And so Dada was born of a need for independence, of a distrust toward unity. 
Those who are with us preserve their freedom. We recognize no theory. We 
have enough cubist and futurist academies: laboratories of formal ideas. Is the 
aim of art to make money and cajole the nice nice bourgeois? Rhymes ring with 
the assonance of the currencies and the inflexion slips along the line of the belly 
in profile. All groups of artists have arrived at this trust company after riding 
their steeds on various comets. While the door remains open to the possibility 
of wallowing in cushions and good things to eat. [. . .] 

Cubism was born out of the simple way of looking at an object: Cezanne 
painted a cup 20 centimeters below his eyes, the cubists look at it from above, 
others complicate appearance by making a perpendicular section and arranging 
it conscientiously on the side. (I do not forget the creative artists and the 
profound laws of matter which they established once and for all.) The futurist 
sees the same cup in movement, a succession of objects one beside the other, 
and maliciously adds a few force lines. This does not prevent the canvas from 
being a good or bad painting suitable for the investment of intellectual capital. 

The new painter creates a world, the elements of which are also its imple- 
ments, a sober, definite work without argument. The new artist protests: he no 
longer paints (symbolic and illusionist reproduction) but creates - directly in 
stone, wood, iron, tin, boulders - locomotive organisms capable of being turned 
in all directions by the limpid wind of momentary sensation. All pictorial or 
plastic work is useless: let it then be a monstrosity that frightens servile minds, 
and not sweetening to decorate the refectories of animals in human costume, 
illustrating the sad fable of mankind. - 
# * * 

Philosophy is the question: from which side shall we look at life, God, the 
idea or other phenomena. Everything one looks at is false. I do not consider 
the relative result more important than the choice between cake and cherries 
after dinner. The system of quickly looking at the other side of a thing in order 
to impose your opinion indirectly is called dialectics, in other words, haggling 
over the spirit of fried potatoes while dancing method around it. 

If I cry out: 
Ideal, ideal, ideal, 
Knowledge, knowledge, knowledge, 
Boomboom, boomboom, boomboom, 

I have given a pretty faithful version of progress, law, morality and all other 
fine qualities that various highly intelligent men have discussed in so many 
books, only to conclude that after all everyone dances to his own personal 
boomboom, and that the writer is entitled to his boomboom: the satisfaction of 
pathological curiosity; a private bell for inexplicable needs; a bath; pecuniary 
difficulties; a stomach with repercussions in life; the authority of the mystic 
wand formulated as the bouquet of a phantom orchestra made up of silent fiddle 



iiib Dissent and Disorder 251 

bows greased with philtres made of chicken manure. With the blue eye-glasses 
of an angel they have excavated the inner life for a dime's worth of unanimous 
gratitude. If all of them are right and if all pills are Pink Pills, let us try for 
once not to be right. Some people think they can explain rationally, by thought, 
what they think. But that is extremely relative. Psychoanalysis is a dangerous 
disease, it puts to sleep the anti-objective impulses of man and systematizes the 
bourgeoisie. There is no ultimate Truth. The dialectic is an amusing mechanism 
which guides us / in a banal kind of way / to the opinions we had in the first 
place. Does anyone think that, by a minute refinement of logic, he has 
demonstrated the truth and established the correctness of these opinions? Logic 
imprisoned by the senses is an organic disease. To this element philosophers 
always like to add: the power of observation. But actually this magnificent 
quality of the mind is the proof of its impotence. We observe, we regard from 
one or more points of view, we choose them among the millions that exist. 
Experience is also a product of chance and individual faculties. Science disgusts 
me as soon as it becomes a speculative system, loses its character of utility - 
that is so useless but is at least individual. I detest greasy objectivity, and 
harmony, the science that finds everything in order. Carry on, my children, 
humanity . . . Science says we are the servants of nature: everything is in order, 
make love and bash your brains in. Carry on, my children, humanity, kind 
bourgeois and journalist virgins ... I am against systems, the most acceptable 
system is on principle to have none. To complete oneself, to perfect oneself in 
one's own littleness, to fill the vessel with one's individuality, to have the 
Courage to fight for and against thought, the mystery of bread, the sudden burst 
of an infernal propeller into economic lilies [ . . . ] 

Active Simplicity 

Inability to distinguish between degrees of clarity: to lick the penumbra and 
float in the big mouth filled with honey and excrement. Measured by the scale 
of eternity, all activity is vain - (if we allow thought to engage in an adventure 
the result of which would be infinitely grotesque and add significantly to our 
knowledge of human impotence). But supposing life to be a poor farce, without 
aim or initial parturition, and because we think it our duty to extricate ourselves 
as fresh and clean as washed chrysanthemums, we have proclaimed as the sole 
basis for agreement: art. It is not as important as we, mercenaries of the spirit, 
have been proclaiming for centuries. Art afflicts no one and those who manage 
to take an interest in it will harvest caresses and a fine opportunity to populate 
the country with their conversation. Art is a private affair, the artist produces 
it for himself; an intelligible work is the product of a journalist, and because 
at this moment it strikes my fancy to combine this monstrosity with oil paints: 
a paper tube simulating the metal that is automatically pressed and poured 
hatred cowardice villainy. The artist, the poet rejoice at the venom of the masses 
condensed into a section chief of this industry, he is happy to be insulted: 
it is a proof of his immutability. When a writer or artist is praised by the 
newspapers, it is proof of the intelligibility of his work: wretched lining of a 



252 Rationalization and Transformation 

coat for public use; tatters covering brutality, piss contributing to the warmth 
of an animal brooding vile instincts. Flabby, insipid flesh reproducing with the 
help of typographical microbes. 

We have thrown out the cry-baby in us. Any infiltration of this kind is candied 
diarrhea. To encourage this act is to digest it. What we need is works that are 
strong straight precise and forever beyond understanding. Logic is a complica- 
tion. Logic is always wrong. It draws the threads of notions, words, in their 
formal exterior, toward illusory ends and centers. Its chains kill, it is an 
enormous centipede stifling independence. Married to logic, art would live in 
incest, swallowing, engulfing its own tail, still part of its own body, fornicating 
within itself, and passion would become a nightmare tarred with protestantism, 
a monument, a heap of ponderous gray entrails. But the suppleness, enthusiasm, 
even the joy of injustice, this little truth which we practise innocently and which 
makes us beautiful: we are subtle and our fingers are malleable and slippery as 
the branches of that sinuous, almost liquid plant; it defines our soul, say the 
cynics. That too is a point of view; but all flowers are not sacred, fortunately, 
and the divine thing in us is our call to anti-human action. I am speaking of a 
paper flower for the buttonholes of the gentlemen who frequent the ball of 
masked life, the kitchen of grace, white cousins lithe or fat. They traffic with 
whatever we have selected. The contradiction and unity of poles in a single toss 
can be the truth. If one absolutely insists on uttering this platitude, the appendix 
of a libidinous, malodorous morality. Morality creates atrophy like every plague 
produced by intelligence. The control of morality and logic has inflicted us with 
impassivity in the presence of policemen - who are the cause of slavery, putrid 
rats infecting the bowels of the bourgeoisie which have infected the only 
luminous clean corridors of glass that remained open to artists. 

Let each man proclaim: there is a great negative work of destruction to be 
accomplished. We must sweep and clean. Affirm the cleanliness of the individual 
after the state of madness, aggressive complete madness of a world abandoned 
to the hands of bandits, who rend one another and destroy the centuries. 
Without aim or design, without organization: indomitable madness, decomposi- 
tion. Those who are strong in words or force will survive, for they are quick 
in defense, the agility of limbs and sentiments flames on their faceted flanks. 

Morality has determined charity and pity, two balls of fat that have grown like 
elephants, like planets, and are called good. There is nothing good about them. 
Goodness is lucid, clear and decided, pitiless toward compromise and politics. 
Morality is an injection of chocolate into the veins of all men. This task is not 
ordered by a supernatural force but by the trust of idea brokers and grasping 
academicians. Sentimentality: at the sight of a group of men quarreling and bored, 
they invented the calendar and the medicament wisdom. With a sticking of labels 
the battle of the philosophers was set off (mercantilism, scales, meticulous and 
petty measures) and for the second time it was understood that pity is a sentiment 
like diarrhea in relation to the disgust that destroys health, a foul attempt by 
carrion corpses to compromise the sun. I proclaim the opposition of all cosmic 
faculties to this gonorrhea of a putrid sun issued from the factories of philo- 
sophical thought, I proclaim bitter struggle with all the weapons of 



w 



IUb Dissent and Disorder 253 

Dadaist Disgust 

Every product of disgust capable of becoming a negation of the family is Dada; 
a protest with the fists of its whole being engaged in destructive action: Dada; 
knowledge of all the means rejected up until now by the shamefaced sex of comfortable 
compromise and good manners: Dada; abolition of logic, which is the dance of those 
impotent to create: Dada; of every social hierarchy and equation set up for the sake 
of values by our valets: Dada; every object, all objects, sentiments, obscurities, 
apparitions and the precise clash of parallel lines are weapons for the fight: Dada; 
abolition of memory: Dada; abolition of archaeology: Dada; abolition of prophets: 
Dada; abolition of the future: Dada; absolute and unquestionable faith in every god 
that is the immediate product of spontaneity: Dada; elegant and unprejudiced leap 
from a harmony to the other sphere; trajectory of a word tossed like a screeching 
phonograph record; to respect all individuals in their folly of the moment: 
whether it be serious, fearful, timid, ardent, vigorous, determined, enthusiastic; 
to divest one's church of every useless cumbersome accessory; to spit out 
disagreeable or amorous ideas like a luminous waterfall, or coddle them - with 
the extreme satisfaction that it doesn't matter in the least - with the same 
intensity in the thicket of one's soul - pure of insects for blood well-born, and 
gilded with bodies of archangels. Freedom: Dada Dada Dada, a roaring of tense 
colors, and interlacing of opposites and of all contradictions, grotesques, incon- 
sistencies: 
LIFE 



4 Richard Huelsenbeck (1892-1974) 'First German 
Dada Manifesto' ('Collective Dada Manifesto') 

Having been active in Zurich Dada, Huelsenbeck returned to Germany in January 1917. 
Berlin Dada became the most explicitly political part of the movement, associated with 
German Bolshevism. This first manifesto nevertheless remains largely oriented to 
artistic struggles, simultaneously mounting an attack on the failure of Expressionism, 
and allying Dada with 'the new medium', viz. collage and montage. It was delivered at 
the I. B. Neumann gallery in Berlin in February 1918, and originally published in Der 
Zweemann, Hanover, c.1919; reprinted in Huelsenbeck (ed.), Dada Almanach, Berlin, 
1920. It was then reissued in 1920 as 'Collective Dada Manifesto' signed by: Huelsen- 
beck, Tristan Tzara, Franz Jung, George Grosz, Marcel Janco, Raoul Hausmann. Hugo 
Ball, Pierre Albert-Birot, Hans Arp et at. The present translation is taken from Motherwell, 
The Dada Painters and Poets (op. cit), pp. 242-6. 

Art in its execution and direction is dependent on the time in which it lives, 
and artists are creatures of their epoch. The highest art will be that which in 
its conscious content presents the thousandfold problems of the day, the art 
Which has been visibly shattered by the explosions of last week, which is forever 
trying to collect its limbs after yesterday's crash. The best and most extraordi- 
nary artists will be those who every hour snatch the tatters of their bodies out 



254 Rationalization and Transformation 

of the frenzied cataract of life, who, with bleeding hands and hearts, hold fast 
to the intelligence of their time. Has expressionism fulfilled our expectations of 
such an art, which should be an expression of our most vital concerns? 

No! No! No! 

Have the expressionists fulfilled our expectations of an art that burns the 
essence of life into our flesh? 

No! No! No! 

Under the pretext of turning inward, the expressionists in literature and 
painting have banded together into a generation which is already looking forward 
to honorable mention in the histories of literature and art and aspiring to the 
most respectable civic distinctions. On pretext of carrying on propaganda for 
the soul, they have, in their struggle with naturalism, found their way back to 
the abstract, pathetic gestures which presuppose a comfortable life free from 
content or strife. The stages are filling up with kings, poets and Faustian 
characters of all sorts; the theory of a melioristic philosophy, the psychological 
naivete of which is highly significant for a critical understanding of expression- 
ism, runs ghostlike through the minds of men who never act. Hatred of the 
press, hatred of advertising, hatred of sensations are typical of people who prefer 
their armchair to the noise of the street, and who even make it a point of pride 
to be swindled by every smalltime profiteer. That sentimental resistance to the 
times, which are neither better nor worse, neither more reactionary nor more 
revolutionary than other times, that weak-kneed resistance, flirting with prayers 
and incense when it does not prefer to load its cardboard cannon with Attic 
iambics - is the quality of a youth which never knew how to be young. 
Expressionism, discovered abroad, and in Germany, true to style, transformed 
into an opulent idyll and the expectation of a good pension, has nothing in 
common with the efforts of active men. The signers of this manifesto have, 
under the battle cry: 

Dada! ! ! ! 

gathered together to put forward a new art, from which they expect the 
realization of new ideals. What then is DADAISM? 

The word Dada symbolizes the most primitive relation to the reality of the 
environment; with Dadaism a new reality comes into its own. Life appears as 
a simultaneous muddle of noises, colors and spiritual rhythms, which is taken 
unmodified into Dadaist art, with all the sensational screams and fevers of its 
reckless everyday psyche and with all its brutal reality. This is the sharp dividing 
line separating Dadaism from all artistic directions up until now and particularly 
from FUTURISM which not long ago some puddingheads took to be a new 
version of impressionist realization. Dadaism for the first time has ceased to 




IIIb Dissent and Disorder 255 

take an aesthetic attitude toward life, and this it accomplishes by tearing all the 
slogans of ethics, culture and inwardness, which are merely cloaks for weak 
muscles, into their components. 

The Bruitist poem 
represents a streetcar as it is, the essence of the streetcar with the yawning of 
Schulze the coupon clipper and the screeching of the brakes. 

The Simultaneist poem 

teaches a sense of the merrygoround of all things; while Herr Schulze reads his 
paper, the Balkan Express crosses the bridge at Nish, a pig squeals in Butcher 
Nuttke's cellar. 



The Static poem 

makes words into individuals, out of the letters spelling woods, steps the woods 
with its treetops, liveried foresters and wild sows, maybe a boarding house steps 
out too, and maybe it's called Bellevue or Bella Vista. Dadaism leads to amazing 
new possibilities and forms of expression in all the arts. It made cubism a dance 
on the stage, it disseminated the BRUITIST music of the futurists (whose 
purely Italian concerns it has no desire to generalize) in every country in Europe. 
The word Dada in itself indicates the internationalism of the movement which 
is bound to no frontiers, religions or professions. Dada is the international 
expression of our times, the great rebellion of artistic movements, the artistic 
reflex of all these offensives, peace congresses, riots in the vegetable market, 
midnight suppers at the Esplanade, etc., etc. Dada champions the use of the 

new medium in painting. 

Dada is a CLUB, founded in Berlin, which you can join without commitments. 
In this club every man is chairman and every man can have his say in artistic 
matters. Dada is not a pretext for the ambition of a few literary men (as our 
enemies would have you believe), Dada is a state of mind that can be revealed 
in any conversation whatever, so that you are compelled to say: this man is a 
DADAIST - that man is not; the Dada Club consequently has members all 
over the world, in Honolulu as well as New Orleans and Meseritz. Under certain 
circumstances to be a Dadaist may mean to be more a businessman, more a 
political partisan than an artist - to be an artist only by accident - to be a 
Dadaist means to let oneself be thrown by things, to oppose all sedimentation; 
to sit in a chair for a single moment is to risk one's life (Mr Wengs pulled his 
revolver out of his pants pocket). A fabric tears under your hand, you say yes 
to a life that strives upward by negation. Affirmation - negation: the gigantic 
hocuspocus of existence fires the nerves of the true Dadaist - and there he is, 
reclining, hunting, cycling - half Pantagruel, half St Francis, laughing and 
laughing. Blast the aesthetic-ethical attitude! Blast the bloodless abstraction of 
expressionism! Blast the literary hollowheads and their theories for improving 
the world! For Dadaism in word and image, for all the Dada things that go on 
l n the world! To be against this manifesto is to be a Dadaist! 



256 Rationalization and Transformation 

5 Richard Huelsenbeck (1892-1974) and Raoul 
Hausmann (1886-1971) 'What is Dadaism and 
what does it want in Germany?' 

The First German Dada Manifesto emphasized 'movement' and 'struggle'. The remaining 
requirement for a 'program of action' was fulfilled by the present manifesto, its Utopian 
character is evident. Some erstwhile Dadaists such as Grosz and Heartfield rapidly took 
the more practical step of joining the German Communist Party (KPD) at its foundation 
in January 1919. The manifesto appeared in Der Dada, no. 1 - 1919 where it was co- 
signed by Jefim Golyscheff, and was reprinted in Huelsenbeck's En Avant Dada, 
Hanover, 1920. The present translation is from Motherwell, The Dada Painters and Poets 
(op. cit.). 

1 Dadaism demands: 

1) The international revolutionary union of all creative and intellectual men 
and women on the basis of radical Communism; 

2) The introduction of progressive unemployment through comprehensive 
mechanization of every field of activity. Only by unemployment does it 
become possible for the individual to achieve certainty as to the truth of life 
and finally become accustomed to experience; 

3) The immediate expropriation of property (socialization) and the communal 
feeding of all; further, the erection of cities of light, and gardens which will 
belong to society as a whole and prepare man for a state of freedom. 

2 The Central Council demands: 

a) Daily meals at public expense for all creative and intellectual men and women 
on the Potsdamer Platz (Berlin); 

b) Compulsory adherence of all clergymen and teachers to the Dadaist articles 
of faith; 

c) The most brutal struggle against all directions of so-called 'workers of the 
spirit' (Hiller, Adler), against their concealed bourgeoisism, against express- 
ionism and post-classical education as advocated by the Sturm group; 

d) The immediate erection of a state art center, elimination of concepts of 
property in the new art (expressionism); the concept of property is entirely 
excluded from the super-individual movement of Dadaism which liberates 
all mankind; 

e) Introduction of the simultaneist poem as a Communist state prayer; 

f) Requisition of churches for the performance of bruitism, simultaneist and 
Dadaist poems; 

g) Establishment of a Dadaist advisory council for the remodelling of life in 
every city of over 50,000 inhabitants; 

h) Immediate organization of a large scale Dadaist propaganda campaign with 

150 circuses for the enlightenment of the proletariat; 
i) Submission of all laws and decrees to the Dadaist central council for 

approval; 




iiib Dissent and Disorder 257 

Immediate regulation of all sexual relations according to the views of 
international Dadaism through establishment of a Dadaist sexual center. 

The Dadaist revolutionary central council. 

German group: Hausmann, Huelsenbeck 

Business Office: Charlottenburg, Kantstrasse 118. 

Applications for membership taken at business office. 



I Richard Huelsenbeck (1892-1974) from En Avant Dada 

fjuelsenbeck wrote a major article surveying the history of the Dada movement from its 
inception in Zurich to its virtual dissolution by 1920. The closing passages, reprinted 
here, repeat the alignment of Dada to Bolshevism while reserving to it a wider pro- 
|ramme than mere economic amelioration. The article is also suspicious of the wide- 
spread ethos of (re-)construction, and maintains a hostile attitude to both German and 
French national traditions in culture. Originally published as En Avant Dada: Eine 
Sbschichte des Dadaismus t Hanover 1920. This extract is taken from Motherwell, The 
Dada Painters and Poets (op. cit.). 

|.j..] In an article on expressionism Kornfeld makes the distinction between 
the ethical man and the psychological man. The ethical man has the child-like 
piety and faith which permit him to kneel at some altar and recognize some 
Gbd, who has the power to lead men from their misery to some paradise. The 
psychological man has journeyed vainly through the infinite, has recognized the 
limits of his spiritual possibilities, he knows that every 'system 1 is a seduction 
with all the consequences of seduction and every God an opportunity for 
financiers. 

ft >The Dadaist, as the psychological man, has brought back his gaze from the 
distance and considers it important to have shoes that fit and a suit without 
holes in it. The Dadaist is an atheist by instinct. He is no longer a metaphysician 
ffl the sense of finding a rule for the conduct of life in any theoretical principles, 
for him there is no longer a 'thou shalt'; for him the cigarette-butt and the 
tttftbrella are as exalted and as timeless as the 'thing in itself Consequently, 
*e good is for the Dadaist no 'better' than the bad - there is only a simultaneity, 
to values as in everything else. This simultaneity applied to the economy of 
&tts is communism, a communism, to be sure, which has abandoned the 
Principle of 'making things better' and above all sees its goal in the destruction 
^everything that has gone bourgeois. Thus the Dadaist is opposed to the idea 
of paradise in every form, and one of the ideas farthest from his mind is that 
|*ke spirit is the sum of all means for the improvement of human existence.' 
-The word 'improvement' is in every form unintelligible to the Dadaist, since 
^hind it he sees a hammering and sawing on this life which, though useless, 
^ttiless and vile, represents as such a thoroughly spiritual phenomenon, requir- 
es no improvement in a metaphysical sense. To mention spirit and improve- 
JJ^t in the same breath is for the Dadaist a blasphemy. 'Evil' has a profound 
a ing, the polarity of events finds in it a limit, and though the real political 



258 Rationalization and Transformation 

thinker (such as Lenin seems to be) creates a movement, i.e., he dissolves 
individualities with the help of a theory, he changes nothing. And that, as 
paradoxical as it may seem, is the import of the Communist movement. 

The Dadaist exploits the psychological possibilities inherent in his faculty for 
flinging out his own personality as one flings a lasso or lets a cloak flutter in 
the wind. He is not the same man today as tomorrow, the day after tomorrow 
he will perhaps be 'nothing at all,' and then he may become everything. He is 
entirely devoted to the movement of life, he accepts its angularity - but he 
never loses his distance to phenomena, because at the same time he preserves 
his creative indifference, as Friedlaender-Mynona calls it. It seems scarcely 
credible that anyone could be at the same time active and at rest, that he should 
be devoted, yet maintain an attitude of rejection; and yet it is in this very 
anomaly that life itself consists, naive, obvious life, with its indifference toward 
happiness and death, joy and misery. The Dadaist is naive. The thing he is 
after is obvious, undifferentiated, unintellectual life. For him a table is not a 
mouse-trap and an umbrella is definitely not to pick your teeth with. In such 
a life art is no more and no less than a psychological problem. In relation to 
the masses, it is a phenomenon of public morality. 

The Dadaist considers it necessary to come out against art, because he has 
seen through its fraud as a moral safety valve. Perhaps this militant attitude is 
a last gesture of inculcated honesty, perhaps it merely amuses the Dadaist, 
perhaps it means nothing at all. But in any case, art (including culture, spirit, 
athletic club), regarded from a serious point of view, is a large-scale swindle. 
And this . . . most especially in Germany, where the most absurd idolatry of all 
sorts of divinities is beaten into the child in order that the grown man and 
taxpayer should automatically fall on his knees when, in the interest of the state 
or some smaller gang of thieves, he receives the order to worship some 'great 
spirit.' I maintain again and again: the whole spirit business is a vulgar utilitarian 
swindle. In this war the Germans (especially in Saxony where the most infamous 
hypocrites reside) strove to justify themselves at home and abroad with Goethe 
and Schiller. Culture can be designated solemnly and with complete naivety as 
the national spirit become form, but also it can be characterized as a compen- 
satory phenomenon, an obeisance to an invisible judge, as veronal for the 
conscience. The Germans are masters of dissembling, they are unquestionably 
the magicians (in the vaudeville sense) among nations, in every moment of their 
life they conjure up a culture, a spirit, a superiority which they can hold as a 
shield in front of their endangered bellies. It is this hypocrisy that has always 
seemed utterly foreign and incomprehensible to the French, a sign of diabolical 
malice. The German is unnaive, he is twofold and has a double base. 

Here we have no intention of standing up for any nation. The French have 
the least right of anyone to be praised as a grande nation, now that they have 
brought the chauvinism of our times to its greatest possible height. The German 
has all the qualities and drawbacks of the idealist. You can look at it whichever 
way you like. You can construe the idealism that distorts things and makes them 
function as an absolute (the discipline of corpses) whether it be vegetarianism, 
the rights of man or the monarchy, as a pathological deformation, or you can 



w 



HIb Dissent and Disorder 259 

call it ecstatically 'the bridge to eternity,' 'the goal of life,' or more such 
platitudes. The expressionists have done quite a bit in that direction. The 
Dadaist is instinctively opposed to all this. He is a man of reality who loves 
wine, women and advertising, his culture is above all of the body. Instinctively 
he sees his mission in smashing the cultural ideology of the Germans. I have no 
desire to justify the Dadaist. He acts instinctively, just as a man might say he 
was a thief out of 'passion,' or a stamp-collector by preference. The 'ideal' has 
shifted: the abstract artist has become (if you insist, dear reader) a wicked 
materialist, with the abstruse characteristic of considering the care of his stomach 
and stock jobbing more honorable than philosophy. 'But that's nothing new,' 
those people will shout who can never tear themselves away from the 'old.' But 
it is something startlingly new, since for the first time in history the consequence 
has been drawn from the question: What is German culture? (Answer: Shit), 
and this culture is attacked with all the instruments of satire, bluff, irony and 
finally, violence. And in a great common action. 

Dada is German Bolshevism. The bourgeois must be deprived of the oppor- 
tunity to 'buy up art for his justification.' Art should altogether get a sound 
thrashing, and Dada stands for the thrashing with all the vehemence of its 
limited nature. The technical aspect of the Dadaist campaign against German 
eulture was considered at great length. Our best instrument consisted of big 
demonstrations at which, in return for a suitable admission fee, everything 
connected with spirit, culture and inwardness was symbolically massacred. It is 
ridiculous and a sign of idiocy exceeding the legal limit to say that Dada (whose 
actual achievements and immense success cannot be denied) is 'only of negative 
value.' Today you can hardly fool first-graders with the old saw about positive 
and negative. 

The gentlemen who demand the 'constructive' are among the most suspicious 
types of a caste that has long been bankrupt. It has become sufficiently apparent 
in our time that law, order and the constructive, the 'understanding for an 
organic development,' are only symbols, curtains and pretexts for fat behinds 
and treachery. If the Dadaist movement is nihilism, then nihilism is a part of 
life, a truth which would be confirmed by any professor of zoology. Relativism, 
Dadaism, Nihilism, Action, Revolution, Gramophone. It makes one sick at heart 
to hear all that together, and as such (insofar as it becomes visible in the form 
of a theory), it all seems very stupid and antiquated. Dada does not take a 
dogmatic attitude. If Knatschke proves today that Dada is old stuff, Dada 
doesn't care. A tree is old stuff too, and people eat dinner day after day without 
experiencing any particular disgust. This whole physiological attitude toward 
the world, that goes so far as to make - as Nietzsche the great philologist did 
- all culture depend on dry or liquid nutriment, is of course to be taken with 
a grain of salt. It is just as true and just as silly as the opposite. But we are 
a fter all human and commit ourselves by the mere fact of drinking coffee today 
*nd tea tomorrow. Dada foresees its end and laughs. Death is a thoroughly 
Dadaist business, in that it signifies nothing at all. Dada has the right to dissolve 
itself and will exert this right when the time comes. With a businesslike gesture, 
freshly pressed pants, a shave and a haircut, it will go down into the grave, 



260 Rationalization and Transformation 

after having made suitable arrangements with the Thanatos Funeral Home. The 
time is not far distant. We have very sensitive fingertips and a larynx of glazed 
paper. The mediocrities and the gentry in search of 'something mad' are 
beginning to conquer Dada. At every corner of our dear German fatherland, 
literary cliques, with Dada as a background, are endeavoring to assume a heroic 
pose, A movement must have sufficient talent to make its decline interesting 
and pleasant. In the end it is immaterial whether the Germans keep on with 
their cultural humbug or not. Let them achieve immortality with it. But if Dada 
dies here, it will some day appear on another planet with rattles and kettledrums, 
pot covers and simultaneous poems, and remind the old God that there are still 
people who are very well aware of the complete idiocy of the world. 



7 Alexander Blok (1880-1921) 'The Decline of 
Humanism' 

Almost alone in his milieu Blok allied himself with the Bolshevik revolution of October 
1917. His poem The Twelve' of January 1918 celebrates the struggle of a group of 
Red Guards through a blinding snowstorm; they are being led, the poem's conclusion 
discloses, by the figure of Jesus Christ carrying a red banner. This contemporaneous 
lecture was delivered on 9 April 1918. After it, Blok reportedly said for me, it [the 
revolution] is not just a fundamental change in all our outward life but something much 
more. First of all, it is the birth of a new kind of man such has never been seen on 
earth before.' The present extract is taken from the translation by I. Frieman in Alexander 
Blok, The Spirit of Music, London, 1946. 

Every movement has its birth in the spirit of music, through which it acts, but 
after a lapse of time it degenerates and begins to lose the musical, the primal 
element out of which it was born and, as a result, perishes. It ceases to be 
culture and becomes civilization. Thus it was in the ancient world - thus it is 
with us. 

The guardian of the spirit of music becomes just those elements to which 
music always reverts (revertitur in terram suam unde erat): namely the people or 
the barbaric masses. Those masses who have never had anything but the spirit 
to call their own remain, therefore, the guardians of culture in those epochs in 
which a limping and no longer resounding civilization has become the enemy 
of culture - and this in spite of the fact that civilization governs all the factors 
of progress such as science and technique and the rest. This is no paradox, A 
civilization dies and a new one, similar to the perishing movement, rises out of 
the same musical elements. 

The culture of the future was not being nourished by the discordant efforts 
of civilization to remedy that which cannot be improved, not by resuscitating 
the dead, or by trying to unify Humanism anew, but by those synthesized, 
revolutionary exertions, by those musical and will-stressed floods and forces to 
which Wagner, in particular, has given expression. The entire complicated 
system of poetic and musical rhythms (especially towards the end of the 



IIIb Dissent and Disorder 261 

nineteenth century) against which the Philistines of Humanism took up a more 
and more hostile and stubborn attitude, was nothing but the musical preparation 
of a new cultural movement, a reflection of those elemental rhythms of nature 
out of which emerged the overture of the present epoch. 

Music followed its accustomed ways. It floated like a shimmering cloud above 
the last of the Humanists and then, darkened, descended as rain or enveloped 
mankind of the nineteenth century in a shroud of mist through which those 
errant beings who had lost their way, called out trying to find each other. 

In Europe's most important lyrics of those times the musical sounds perceived 
through rain and mist resounded. Under the sodden earth there trembled a 
musical rustling and roaring as the elemental voices of the barbaric masses and 
the utterances of the great artists of the century rose. That new flood, which 
had been flowing underground for a century, swelled more and more, breached 
the surface of civilization now here, now there, until with irresistible force it 
broke through, intoxicated and saturated with the spirit of music. 

The civilized ear apprehended that music as a wild choir of discordant voices. 
For a great many the music of that time was intolerable, and I do not exaggerate 
by any means when I maintain that many of us, overwhelmed by it, broke down 
under its stridency. It was destructive of all those achievements of civilization 
which were considered unassailable. It ran counter to all our established melodies 
of 'Truth, Goodness and Beauty' and it confronted, almost with hostility, the 
education and cultural development which Humanist Europe had inherited from 
the preceding century. 

It is an established fact that a new movement, hostile to the civilized world, 
extended itself, a movement which disrupted civilization and so shook the 
continent that at the very outset it resembled a group of scattered islands in 
danger of being swept away by the all-destroying flood. The most important 
things which civilization had produced, from the Humanistic viewpoint of ethics, 
aesthetics and justice, were menaced. As civilized Humanists we can never 
submit to the new movement's persuasion. But if we cannot submit, if we must 
cling rather to the values which the Humanistic civilization had proclaimed as 
indestructible, shall we not then soon be isolated from that culture and that 
world which perceives in the broken flood the rustling and roaring of the 
elemental music of the masses? 

Man is animal; man is plant and flower; in him slumbers the beast, in him 
lives mimosa-like softness. Both are transitory appearances, sometimes masks. 
This flight of appearances involves a change of methods; man's entire being is 
in revolt; he has risen from a century-long stupor of civilization. Spirit, soul and 
body have been caught up by the storm and, in the turmoil of the spiritual, political 
and social revolutions which have their causes in the cosmos, there takes place a 
transformation - the birth of the new man. 

I have attempted to determine the climacteric in the past of Humanism's 
decline. The artists who remained faithful to the spirit of music I look upon 
as witnesses of that decline because they participated in it. It is time to order 
and revalue that crisis according to these characteristics: according to its artistic 
sensibility and to the degree of perfection with which its rhythms mirrored the 



262 Rationalization and Transformation 

world's life. All other characteristics, national characteristics not excepted, are, 
to my mind, of secondary or of no consideration at all. 

We Russians have no historical memories, but in us lives the elemental, and 
is sufficiently strong; it is still reserved for our immeasurable country to realize 
the significant. We have not heard of Petrarch or Hutten - only of the wind 
which courses across the steppes and the musical notes of our own wild nature 
which resound in the ears of Gogol, Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky. 

I sum up and draw the conclusion that there can be no shadow of doubt as 
to the final outcome of the struggle and that a new movement, born out of the 
spirit of music, has taken the place of the old human civilization. So far, it still 
resembles a runaway stream which carries with it the debris of civilization. But 
already in this movement a metamorphosis out of which the new personality is 
to emerge is taking shape: not the ethical, political or humanist, being but, in 
the words of Wagner, the creative being, the artistic person, who alone will be 
capable of living life in the epoch of storms and whirlwinds into which mankind 
unwittingly has jettisoned itself. 



8 Novembergruppe: Draft Manifesto 1918 and 
'Guidelines' 1919 

The Novembergruppe was an organisation of artists formed in response to the German 
revolution of November 1918, on 3rd December 1918. Leading figures included Max 
Pechstein and Cesar Klein. Others involved were Rudolf Belling, Heinrich Campendonk and 
Otto Muller. After the defeat of the Revolution, and the establishment of the bourgeois 
Weimar Republic, differences of opinion emerged about the group's role and commit- 
ments. These early statements mark the Utopian moment of the group's enthusiastic 
foundation. The present translations are taken from V. H. Miesel (ed.), Voices of German 
Expressionism, New Jersey, 1970. 



Manifesto 

We are standing on the fertile soil of the revolution. 

Our slogan is: Freedom, Equality, and Fraternity! 

We are uniting because we have human and artistic convictions in common. 

We believe that our first duty is to dedicate all our energies to the moral 
regeneration of a young and free Germany. 

We plead for excellence in all things and we shall support this plea with all 
the means at our disposal. 

We insist upon an unlimited freedom of expression as well as public acknow- 
ledgement of it. 

We believe it is our special duty to gather together all significant artistic 
talent and dedicate it to the collective well-being of the nation. 

We belong to no party, no class. We are human beings, human beings who 
work tirelessly at the task appointed us by nature. It is a task, like any other 
if it is to benefit the whole Volk, which must take into consideration the 



iiib Dissent and Disorder 263 

general public good and requires the appreciation and recognition of that general 

public. 
We respect every achievement in every sphere and we are of the opinion that 
■f! ; the most competent men will assume the heaviest duties, submitting themselves 
II to such duties for the sake and benefit of the whole Volk. 
f Our goal - each at his place in hard, tireless, collective, creative work. 
| We feel young, free, and pure. 

I Our spotless love belongs to a young, free Germany and we shall fight against 
t all backwardness and reaction, bravely, without reserve, and with all the power 
-| at our command. 

p We send our fondest greetings to all those who have heard the call and feel 
f responsible - Cubists, Futurists, and Expressionists. Join us! 

-$£ 

| Guidelines 

£ I. The November Group is the (German) alliance of radical artists. 

II. The November Group is not a union for the defence of economic interests, 
| nor is it (merely) an association for exhibition purposes. 

III. The November Group wishes to exercise a decisive influence upon all 
'■: artistic matters by merging into a general alliance all like-minded creative forces. 

IV. We demand a voice and an active role in: 

1. All architectural projects as a matter of public concern: city planning, new 

settlements, the public buildings of government, industry and the social services, 
/ private building projects, the preservation of monuments, the suppression of 
J artistically worthless architectural monuments. 

I 2. The reorganization of art schools and their curricula: the suspension of 
t authoritarian supervision, the election of teachers by artists 1 associations and 
f students, the elimination of scholarships, the unification of architecture, sculp- 
■ ture, painting, and design schools, the establishment of studios for work and 
1 experimentation. 

: 3. The transformation of museums: the suppression of biased collecting 
J policies, the elimination of an overemphasis upon the acquiring of objects having 
v only scholarly value; their transformation into people's art centres, unprejudiced 

centres of timeless principles. 
j 4. The allotment of exhibition halls: the elimination of special privileges and 

capitalistic influences. 

5. Legislation on artistic matters: giving artists equal rights as spiritual creators, 

the protection of artistic property, the elimination of all duties and taxes on 

works of art. 

V. The November Group will demonstrate their solidarity and their achievement 
by continuous public announcements and by an annual exhibition in November. 
The central committee will supervise these continuing announcements and exhi- 
bitions. All members are entitled to equal exhibition space and will not be judged 
by any jury. The central committee will also arrange all special exhibits. 



264 Rationalization and Transformation 

9 Novembergruppe Opposition: 'Open Letter to the 
Novembergruppe' 

A Left Opposition to the Novembergruppe leadership coalesced as the group appeared 
to vacillate over its commitments to the Revolution. In artistic terms the Opposition was 
opposed to the individualism associated with Expressionism and sought to develop 
instead either a 'new objectivity' or a 'non-objective art'. Its 'Open Letter' was originally 
published in Der Gegner, II, nos. 8-9, June, 1921. The present translation by Elizabeth 
Lane-Thussu for the Open University, 1983. 

The present leaders of the November Group are continually insisting that 
the November Group is no more than a purely aesthetic-revolutionary 
organization, founded also for economic reasons. They are lying. The first 
circular, which called for its setting up, expressly stressed the 'revolutionary' 
artists' commitment to the Revolution. The first statement of aims begins 
with the sentences: 'At last our call to arms has been taken up. The 
Revolution has come down on our side. The Revolution demands that we 
painters, sculptors and architects of the new spirit join together!' [. . .] 

The November Group was founded ostensibly by artists who wanted to realize 
a revolutionary desire for a new ideal community and for cooperation with the 
working people, free from the machinations of elitist art clubs and dealers' 
speculations. That is why young and proletarian-oriented artists joined up with 
the November Group. In innumerable meetings and statements they stressed 
that the November Group should only exclude the Right and in no way the 
Left. Not for a moment did any of the leading members seriously confront the 
problem of hierarchy common to all other bourgeois artists' groups, even with 
the awareness afforded them by the proletarian revolution - all they did was to 
confuse the issue with their slippery rhetoric, so that they could foster their 
own egos in the old sordid way of artists, by having the largest possible 
membership, a despised herd they looked down upon from the heights of their 
fame. [. . .] 

Those at the top realized that among the younger members there was a certain 
number who believed in the proletarian revolution, and felt the necessity of integrating 
artists into the body of the workers; and that a certain section of the membership 
did not wish to be artists in the bourgeois-cultural sense, because they saw the 
way to fulfil themselves not in promoting an apparently revolutionary aesthetic, but 
instead sought the justification of the artist's existence as the instrument of the 
people's latent desires for a new, untainted way of life, and because they did 
not want to appear to be superior, conceited experts, dismissing in a high-handed 
way any attempts for a better way of working, condemning them on the basis 
of values borrowed from a bourgeois aesthetic. All the hopes and wishes of this 
section of the membership were squashed by these leaders, who used all kinds of 
dodges and misleading references to the 'well-known lack of unity among artists' 
on the one hand, and a brutal exploitation of their powers, on the other. [. . .] 




IIIb Dissent and Disorder 265 

What was the use of the revolutionary members demanding a clear-cut stand 
against the authorities over the pressures and difficulties they made with the 
November Group's participation in the Great Berlin Art Exhibition at the 
Lehrter Bahnhof? None, because these leaders had their reputations and sine- 
cures to protect despite the views of the group's vital forces. The Ministry had 
threatened not to open the November Group section if, as last year, works were 
exhibited which did not correspond with the authorities' ideas about art. So 
they submitted; the President of the Great Berlin Exhibition committee, Schlich- 
ting, mobilized a completely false moral campaign against two pictures by Rudolf 
Schlichter and Otto Dix that didn't find favour with him, threatened them with 
the Public Prosecutor, and even the Group, it appeared, had to submit; 
Reichspresident Ebert sauntered through the galleries at the opening, showing 
the futility of the exercise. And these sycophants of artists were happy - their 
egos could bask in the presence of their 'rulers' - those lackeys of exploitation 
and supporters of courts martial. 

These leading lights have received a box on the ears for their lack of principle, 
but we, who feel responsible for promoting an ideal society, have never had nor 
ever will have anything in common with them. Our love is for the proletariat, 
because only the proletariat will bring about, through communism, equality for 
all people and forms of work, and freedom from slavery and exploitation. We 
have not become artists in order to have a comfortable and irresponsible life, 
living off the exploiters' demand for luxury. We feel solidarity with the proleta- 
riat's struggle for the realization of a humane society, in which there is no 
oppression, in which we will not, as we do now, have the contradiction of 
working in opposition to society only to exist by its permission, like parasites. 

We feel bound by the task laid on us by the world's proletariat in their 
struggle for a new existence inspired by a new spirit. We are aware of our duty 
to work together with the masses towards the achievement of this society. And 
so we say this to those prominent figures: Our goal must be seen to be the overthrow 
of this aesthetic-formalistic pedantry, either by a new objectivity, born of a disgust 
with exploitative, bourgeois society; or by the explorative preliminary attempts of a 
non-objective art form which is equally seeking a victory over individualism in 
rejecting this aesthetic and this society, to benefit a new kind of person. There 
is neither understanding nor room for these ideas in the November Group as 
it is presently constituted; the leaders dismiss such demands as nonsensical rubbish 
and on the contrary emphasize their own position, which comes close to being 
a dictatorship of fashionable' people and businessmen over the energetic, progressive 
members. The November Group should not let its name become a term for 
fellow-travellers, a label which could hang on for years, and we must resist this 
dictatorship, we must shake off these leaders and by our secession force other 
individuals to that decision. The actions of the leading figures who neither have 
ideas nor have ever been capable of leading, who suppress us out of pure 
self-interest, have resulted in the most deplorable compromises such as submit- 
ting to the orders of the Ministry of Culture and the Berlin Artists' Association; 
their actions have also led to the November Group being totally unaware of the 
public, although their sufferance of the efforts of the proletarian-minded artists 



266 Rationalization and Transformation 

has served to lend the group a revolutionary image; but they have stamped on 
all the progressive spirits in so far as there were any, instead of extending a 
friendly hand to them. But a group that is not capable these days of recognizing 
and adopting the strivings and goals of these independent spirits has no 
justification for its existence. 

This is the decisive hour: expressing the will of the people, carrying out productive 
work for a new, emerging community demands relentless rejection of the trade in 
compromises. We call on those members who grasp that today Art means protest 
against the sleep-walking bourgeoisie, against continual exploitation and Philistinism, 
to join in our opposition and help to carry out the necessary purge. 

We know that we have to be the expression of the revolutionary forces, the 
instrument of the needs of the age and the people, and we reject any connection 
with the aesthetic profiteers and pedants from tomorrow onwards. We must 
bear witness to the revolution, to the new society, and this must be no mere 
lip-service, and so we want to put our explicit aims into effect, to co-operate 
in establishing the new humane society, the community of workers! 

The November Group Opposition: 

Otto Dix, Max Dungert, George Grosz, Raoul Hausmann, Hanna Hoch, Ernst 

Krantz, Mutzenbecher, Thomas Ring, Rudolf Schlichter, Georg Scholz, Willy 

Zierath. 



10 Walter Gropius (1883-1969) Reply to Arbeitsrat 
fur Kunst Questionnaire 

In early 1919 a questionnaire was circulated by the Arbeitsrat fur Kunst (Workers 
Council for Art), an artists' organization, like the Novembergruppe generated by the 
November Revolution. Thirteen questions addressed issues ranging from art education 
and public housing to the best ways for modern art to 'harmonize' with the people. 
Gropius, founder and director of the Bauhaus, was at this time a member of the 
Arbeitsrat, and succeeded Bruno Taut as Chairman in March 1919. His answers to 
questions V and VI concerned the position of the artist in a socialist state and the nature 
and role of art exhibitions. Originally published in Yes! Voices of the Workers' Council for 
Art, Berlin, 1919. The present translation is taken from Miesel, op. cit. 

V. Art and state are irreconcilable concepts. They are by their very nature 
opposed. The creative spirit, vital and dynamic, unique and unpredictable, 
refuses to be limited by the laws of the state or by the straitjacket of bourgeois 
values. And if the state uses force to interfere with the free development of 
such 'abnormal' creators it is actually cutting its own life's blood supply. Thus 
our age is suffocated by a world of shopkeepers, is trapped in a quagmire of 
materialism. The real task of socialism is to destroy the evil demon of commer- 
cialism in order that the creative spirit of the Volk might once more flourish. 
The mentality of our nation has already been profoundly shaken by the recent 
disaster and after the total collapse of the old life it has been made so sensitive 



iiIb Dissent and Disorder 267 

that it might make Germany more receptive to the new spirit than any of the 
other European nations. For war, hunger, and pestilence have jarred us out of 
our obstinacy, they have aroused us out of our inertia and self-satisfaction, they 
have finally awakened our sleepy and lazy hearts. Through pain we have been 
taught once again to feel. Feeling is, after all, the source of inspiration, feeling 
leads to finding, to that creative power which organizes and structures, in short 
- in the broadest sense - to a passion for building. And this passion for building, 
for structure - this architectural spirit - is the natural antithesis to the world of 
shopkeepers, to the spirit of disintegration and destruction which is the deadly 
enemy of all art. 

VI. Art exhibitions are the misbegotten creatures of an art starved Europe. 
Since art is dead in the actual life of civilized nations it has been relegated to 
these grotesque morgues and there prostituted. Today a work of art no longer 
occupies a well-defined and hallowed place in the midst of the Volk, it is free 
as a bird and has become merely a luxury object in the salons of the bourgeoisie. 
An art exhibition is its warehouse and market. The Volk leaves empty-handed 
and has no conception of a living art. Therefore, in place of the old salon art 
exhibition, let us have traveling art shows in temporary, brightly painted huts 
or even tents, shows featuring not only paintings and sculptures but also 
architectural models, large and small or stereo and cinematic presentations of 
architecture. The task of future art exhibitions is to show painting and sculpture 
in the context of architecture, to show how they function in buildings and thus 
to make art once again living and vital. 



11 Max Beckmann (1884-1950) 'Creative Credo' 

The author was invalided out of the German Army in 1915. His 'Credo' was composed 
in 1918 at the moment of the Empire's defeat and the subsequent revolution of 
November 1918, but before the defeat of the revolution and the establishment of the 
Weimar Republic, which took place in 1919. Originally published in Kasimir Edschmid 
(ed.) f Schopferische Konfession, Tribune der Kunst undZeit, XIII, Berlin, 1920. The pre- 
sent translation is taken from Miesel, op. cit. 

I paint and I'm satisfied to let it go at that since I'm by nature tongue-tied and 
only a terrific interest in something can squeeze a few words out of me. 

Nowadays whenever I listen to painters who have a way with words, frequently 
with real astonishment, I become a little uneasy about whether I can find 
language beautiful and spirited enough to convey my enthusiasm and passion 
for the objects of the visible world. However, I've finally calmed myself about 
this. I'm now satisfied to tell myself: 'You are a painter, do your job and let 
those who can, talk.' I believe that essentially I love painting so much because 
it forces me to be objective. There is nothing I hate more than sentimentality. 
The stronger my determination grows to grasp the unutterable things of this 
world, the deeper and more powerful the emotion burning inside me about our 
existence, the tighter I keep my mouth shut and the harder I try to capture the 



268 Rationalization and Transformation 

terrible, thrilling monster of life's vitality and to confine it, to beat it down and 
to strangle it with crystal-clear, razor-sharp lines and planes. 

I don't cry. I hate tears, they are a sign of slavery. I keep my mind on my 
business - on a leg, on an arm, on the penetration of the surface thanks to the 
wonderful effects of foreshortening, on the partitioning of space, on the rela- 
tionship of straight and curved lines, on the interesting placement of small, 
variously and curiously shaped round forms next to straight and flat surfaces, 
walls, tabletops, wooden crosses, or house facades. Most important for me is 
volume, trapped in height and width; volume on the plane, depth without losing 
the awareness of the plane, the architecture of the picture. 

Piety? God? Oh beautiful, much misused words. I'm both when I have done 
my work in such a way that I can finally die. A painted or drawn hand, a 
grinning or weeping face, that is my confession of faith; if I have felt anything 
at all about life it can be found there. 

The war has now dragged to a miserable end. But it hasn't changed my ideas 
about life in the least, it has only confirmed them. We are on our way to very 
difficult times. But right now, perhaps more than before the war, I need to be 
with people. In the city. That is just where we belong these days. We must be 
a part of all the misery which is coming. We have to surrender our heart and 
our nerves, we must abandon ourselves to the horrible cries of pain of a poor 
deluded people. Right now we have to get as close to the people as possible. 
It's the only course of action which might give some purpose to our superfluous 
and selfish existence - that we give people a picture of their fate. And we can 
only do that if we love humanity. 

Actually it's stupid to love mankind, nothing but a heap of egoism (and we 
are a part of it too). But I love it anyway. I love its meanness, its banality, its 
dullness, its cheap contentment, and its oh-so-very-rare heroism. But in spite 
of this, every single person is a unique event, as if he had just fallen from a 
star. And isn't the city the best place to experience this? They say that the air 
in the country is cleaner and that there are fewer temptations. But I believe 
that dirt is the same wherever you are. Cleanliness is a matter of the will. 
Farmers and landscapes are all very beautiful and occasionally even refreshing. 
But the great orchestra of humanity is still in the city. 

What was really unhealthy and disgusting before the war was that business 
interests and a mania for success and influence had infected all of us in one 
form or another. Well, we have had four years of staring straight into the stupid 
face of horror. Perhaps a few people were really impressed. Assuming, of course, 
anyone had the slightest inclination to be impressed. 

Complete withdrawal in order to achieve that famous purity people talk about 
as well as the loss of self in God, right now all that is too bloodless and also 
loveless for me. You don't dare do that kind of thing until your work is finished 
and our work is painting. 

I certainly hope we are finished with much of the past. Finished with the 
mindless imitation of visible reality; finished with feeble, archaistic, and empty 
decoration, and finished with that false, sentimental, and swooning mysticism! 
I hope we will achieve a transcendental objectivity out of a deep love for nature 



HIb Dissent and Disorder 269 

and mankind. The sort of thing you can see in the art of Malesskircher, 
Griinewald, Breughel, Cezanne, and Van Gogh. 

Perhaps with the decline of business, perhaps (something I hardly dare hope) 
with the development of communism, the love of objects for their own sake 
will become stronger, I believe this is the only possibility open to us for 
achieving a great universal style. 

That is my crazy hope which I can't give up, which in spite of everything is 
stronger in me than ever before. And someday I want to make buildings along 
with my pictures. To build a tower in which mankind can shriek out its rage 
and despair and all their poor hopes and joys and wild yearning. A new church. 
Perhaps this age may help me. 



12 Max Pechstein (1881-1955) 'Creative Credo' 

An Expressionist painter since the formation of the Brucke group in Dresden in 

1905, Pechstein here offers a singularly expressionist 'Credo'. His individualism would 
at this date have sat in a somewhat strained relationship with the more overtly left-wing 
elements of the post-war German avant-garde. Originally published in Edschmid, op. cit. 
The present translation is taken from Miesel, op. cit. 

Work! 

Ecstasy! Smash your brains! Chew, stuff your self, gulp it down, mix it around! 
The bliss of giving birth! The crack of the brush, best of all as it stabs the 
canvas. Tubes of color squeezed dry. And the body? 

It doesn't matter. 

Health? 

Make yourself healthy! 

Sickness doesn't exist! Only work and I'll say that again - only blessed work! 
Paint! Dive into colors, roll around in tones! in the slush of chaos! Chew the 
broken off mouthpiece of your pipe, press your naked feet into the earth. Crayon 
and pen pierce sharply into the brain, they stab into every corner, furiously 
they press into the whiteness. Black laughs like the devil on paper, grins in 
bizarre lines, comforts in velvety planes, excites and caresses. The storm roars 
- sand blows about - the sun shatters to pieces - and nevertheless, the gentle 
curve of the horizon quietly embraces everything. 

Beaten down, exhausted, just a worm, collapse into your bed. A deep s ^ ee P 
will make you forget your defeat. A new day! A new struggle! Ecstasy again! 
One day after the other, a sparkling, constantly changing chain of days- One 
experience after the other. That damned brain! What is it that churns and 
twitches and jumps in there? Hah! Tear your head off, °r grab it with both 
hands, turn it around, twist it off. Then we'll scrape it out and scratch it out. 
Get rid of every last little bit. Sand! Water! Scrub it clean. There now!! A lm ost 
as good as new! an unused skull. Night! Night! No stars, pitch black. Without 
desire! 

Tomorrow is another dav. 



270 Rationalization and Transformation 

13 George Grosz (1893-1959) 'My New Pictures' 

Grosz had made a series of transitions from an amalgam of Futurism and Expression- 
ism, to Berlin Dada, and to membership of the German Communist Party on its 
foundation in January 1919. By 1920 he had virtually abandoned painting and had 
produced several portfolios of prints attacking bourgeois society. These were published 
by the Communist-oriented press Malik Verlag. The 'new pictures' to which he refers in 
this text of 1920 mark a resumption of painting in a style influenced on the one hand, 
ideologically, by the demands for a socialist objectivity, and on the other, technically, 
by the more traditional forms of pictorial space paradoxically exemplified in the con- 
current work of conservatives like Carra. Originally published in Das Kunstblatt, V, no. 
1, Berlin, 1921. The present translation is taken from Miesei, op. cit. 

Today art is absolutely a secondary affair. Anyone able to see beyond their 
studio walls will admit this. Just the same, art is something which demands a 
clearcut decision from artists. You can't be indifferent about your position in 
this trade, about your attitude toward the problem of the masses, a problem 
which is no problem if you can see straight. Are you on the side of the exploiters 
or on the side of the masses who are giving these exploiters a good tanning? 

You can't avoid this issue with the old rigmarole about the sublimity and 
holiness and transcendental character of art. These days an artist is bought by 
the best-paying jobber or Maecenas - this business of commissions is called in 
a bourgeois state the advancement of culture. But today's painters and poets 
don't want to know anything at all about the masses. How else can you explain 
the fact that virtually nothing is exhibited which in any way reflects the ideals 
and efforts, the will of the aspiring masses. 

The artistic revolutions of painters and poets are certainly interesting and 
aesthetically valuable - but still, in the last analysis, they are studio problems 
and many artists who earnestly torment themselves about such matters end up 
by succumbing to skepticism and bourgeois nihilism. This happens because 
persisting in their individualistic artistic eccentricities they never learn to 
understand revolutionary issues with any clarity; in fact, they rarely bother with 
such things. Why, there are even art-revolutionary painters who haven't freed 
themselves from painting Christ and the apostles; now, at the very time when 
it is their revolutionary duty to double their efforts at propaganda in order to 
purify the world of supernatural forces, God and His angels, and thereby 
sharpen mankind's awareness of its true relationship to the world. Those 
symbols, long since exhausted, and the mystical raptures of that stupid saint 
hocus-pocus, today's painting is full of that stuff and what can it possibly mean 
to us? All this painted nonsense certainly can't stand up to reality. Life is much 
too strong for it. 

What should you do to give content to your paintings? 

Go to a proletarian meeting; look and listen how people there, people just 
like you, discuss some small improvement of their lot. 

And understand - these masses are the ones who are reorganizing the world. 
Not you! But you can work with them. You could help them if you wanted to! 




IIIb Dissent and Disorder 271 

And that way you could learn to give your art a content which was supported 
Ky the revolutionary ideals of the workers. 

As for my works in this issue, I want to say the following: I am again 
irying to give an absolutely realistic picture of the world. I want every man to 
understand me - without that profundity fashionable these days, without those 
depths which demand a veritable diving outfit stuffed with cabalistic and 
Metaphysical hocus-pocus. In my efforts to develop a clear and simple style I 
Can't help drawing closer to Carra. Nevertheless, everything which is metaphysi- 
al and bourgeois about Carres work repels me. My work should be interpreted 
as training, as a hard workout, without any vision into eternity! I am trying in 
my so-called works of art to construct something with a completely realistic 
foundation. Man is no longer an individual to be examined in subtle psycho- 
logical terms, but a collective, almost mechanical concept. Individual destiny no 
toiger matters. Just as the ancient Greeks, I would like to create absolutely 
simple sport symbols which would be so easily understood that no commentary 
would be necessary, 

n I am suppressing colour. Lines are used in an impersonal, photographic 
way to construct volumes. Once more stability, construction, and practical 
purpose - e.g., sport, engineer, and machine but devoid of Futurist romantic 
dynamism. 

/Once more to establish control over line and form - it's no longer a question 
of conjuring up on canvas brightly coloured Expressionistic soul-tapestries - the 
objectivity and clarity of an engineer's drawing is preferable to the uncontrolled 
twaddle of the cabala, metaphysics, and ecstatic saints. 

; It isn't possible to be absolutely precise when you write about your own work, 
especially if you're always in training - then each day brings new discoveries 
and a new orientation. But I would like to say one thing more: I see the future 
development of painting taking place in workshops, in pure craftsmanship, not 
in any holy temple of the arts. Painting is manual labor, no different from any 
Other; it can be done well or poorly. Today we have a star system, so do the 
other arts - but that will disappear. 

}i Photography will play an important role: nowadays a photographer can give 
you a better and cheaper picture of yourself than a painter. Besides, modern 
Wists prefer to distort things after their own fashion - and they have a peculiar 
aversion to a good likeness. The anarchism of Expressionism must stop! Today 
Painters are forced into this situation because they are unenlightened and have 
no links with working people. But a time will come when artists - instead of 
ksing scrubby bohemian anarchists - will be clean, healthy workers in a 
eollectivistic community. Until this goal is realized by the working class the 
intellectual will remain cynical, skeptical, and confused. Not until then will art 
b e able to break out of its narrow and shallow confines where it flows anaemically 
through the life of the 'upper ten-thousand', not until then will it become a 
Sreat stream capable of nourishing all of working humanity. Then capitalism's 
Monopoly of spiritual things will be ended. - 

And here also communism will lead to a truly classless society, to an 
e nrichment and further development of humanity. 



272 Rationalization and Transformation 

14 Francis Picabia (1879-1953) 'Thank you, Francis!' 

The author passed through a succession of avant-garde styles before becoming a 
leading figure in international Dada, moving between Paris and New York. He founded 
the Dada review 391 in 1917 and edited it until 1924. The present text, which includes 
a refusal of the then ascendant classicism, was originally published as 'Francis Merci!' 
in Litterature, new series no. 8, Paris, January 1923. The present translation is taken 
from Lippard, 1971, op. cit. 

One must become acquainted with everybody except oneself; one must not know 
which sex one belongs to; I do not care whether I am male or female, I do not 
admire men more than I do women. Having no virtues, I am assured of not 
suffering from them. Many people seek the road which can lead them to their 
ideal: I have no ideal; the person who parades his ideal is only an arriviste. 
Undoubtedly, I am also an arriviste, but my lack of scruples is an invention for 
myself, a subjectivity. Objectively it would consist of awarding myself the legion 
d'honneur, of wishing to become a minister or of plotting to get into the 
Institute! Well, for me, all that is shit! 

What I like is to invent, to imagine, to make myself a new man every moment, 
then forget him, forget everything. We should be equipped with a special eraser, 
gradually effacing our works and the memory of them. Our brain should be 
nothing but a blackboard, or white, or, better, a mirror in which we would see 
ourselves for a moment, only to turn our backs on it two minutes later. My 
ambition is to be a man sterile for others; the man who sets himself up as a 
school disgusts me, he gives his gonorrhea to artists for nothing and sells it as 
dearly as possible to amateurs. Actually, writers, painters, and other idiots have 
passed on the word to fight against the 'monsters,' monsters who, naturally, do 
not exist, who are pure inventions of man. 

Artists are afraid; they whisper in each other's ears about a boogey man which 
might well prevent them from playing their dirty little tricks! No age, I believe, 
has been more imbecilic than ours. These gentlemen would have us believe that 
nothing is happening anymore; the train reversing its engines, it seems, is very 
pretty to look at, cows are no longer enough! The travelers to this backward 
Decanville are named: Matisse, Morandi, Braque, Picasso, Leger, de Segonzac, 
etc., etc. . . . What is funniest of all is that they accept, as stationmaster, Louis 
Vauxcelles, whose great black napkin contains only a foetus! 

Since the war, a ponderous and half-witted sentiment of morality rules the 
entire world. The moralists never discern the moral facts of appearances, the 
Church for them is a morality like the morality of drinking water, or of not 
daring to wash one's ass in front of a parrot! All that is arbitrary; people with 
morals are badly informed, and those who are informed know that the others 
will not inform themselves. 

There is no such thing as a moral problem; morality like modesty is one of 
the greatest stupidities. The asshole of morality should take the form of a 
chamber-pot, that's all the objectivity I ask of it. 




IIIb Dissent and Disorder 273 

This contagious disease called morality has succeeded in contaminating all of 
the so-called artistic milieux; writers and painters become serious people, and 
g^n we shall have a minister of painting and literature; I don't doubt that there 
w ill be still more frightful assininities. The poets no longer know what to say, 
s o some are becoming Catholics, others believers; these men manufacture their 
little scribblings as Felix Potin does his cold chicken preserves; people say that 
Dada is the end of romanticism, that I am a clown, and they cry long live 
classicism which will save the pure souls and their ambitions, the simple souls 
so dear to those afflicted by dreams of grandeur! 

However, I do not abandon the hope that nothing is finished yet, I am here, 
and so are several friends who have a love of life, a life we do not know and 
which interests us for that very reason. 





IIIc 

Abstraction and Form 



1 Man Ray (1890-1977) Statement 

American by birth, though involved for most of his career with the European avant-garde 
centred in Paris, Man Ray is normally associated with his development of photographic 
techniques in the orbit first of Dada, and later, Surrealism. In this early statement he 
articulates a more orthodox formalist point of view. The 'Statement' was originally 
printed in The Forum Exhibition of Modern American Painters', Anderson Galleries, New 
York, March 1916. It is reproduced here from Lippard, 1971, op. cit. 

Throughout time painting has alternately been put to the service of the church, 
the state, arms, individual patronage, nature appreciation, scientific phenomena, 
anecdote, and decoration. 

But all the marvelous works that have been painted, whatever the sources of 
inspiration, still live for us because of absolute qualities they possess in common. 

The creative force and the expressiveness of painting reside materially in the 
color and texture of pigment, in the possibilities of form invention and organ- 
ization, and in the flat plane on which these elements are brought to play. 

The artist is concerned solely with linking these absolute qualities directly to 
his wit, imagination, and experience, without the go-between of a 'subject.' 
Working on a single plane as the instantaneously visualizing factor, he realizes 
his mind motives and physical sensations in a permanent and universal language 
of color, texture, and form organization. He uncovers the pure plane of 
expression that has so long been hidden by the glazings of nature imitation, 
anecdote, and the other popular subjects. 

Accordingly the artist's work is to be measured by the vitality, the invention, 
and the definiteness and conviction of purpose within its own medium. 



2 Viktor Shklovsky (1893-1984) from 'Art as 
Technique 1 

The author was a participant in the Russian school of formalist linguistics which 
addressed crucial problems about the technical nature of art and literature in the years 



IIIc Abstraction and Form 275 

around the Revolution. Taking as his stalking horse a Symbolist literary theory, Shklovsky 
outlines an opposing view of the nature of art. According to this, the purpose of art is 
'de-familiarization'. As Shklovsky wrote elsewhere: 'A new form appears not in order to 
express a new content, but in order to replace an old form, which has already lost its 
artistic value.' Originally published as Iskusstvo kak priyom' in Sbomiki, II, Petrograd, 
1917. These excerpts are drawn from the English translation ('Art as Technique', or 
'Art as Device') in L. T. Lemon and M. J. Reis (eds.), Russian Formalist Criticism, Lincoln, 
Nebraska, 1965. 

'Art is thinking in images.' This maxim, which even high school students parrot, 
is nevertheless the starting point for the erudite philologist who is beginning to 
put together some kind of systematic literary theory. The idea, originated in 
part by Potebnya, has spread. 'Without imagery there is no art, and in particular 
no poetry,' Potebnya writes. And elsewhere, 'Poetry, as well as prose, is first 
and foremost a special way of thinking and knowing.' 

Poetry is a special way of thinking; it is, precisely, a way of thinking in 
images, a way which permits what is generally called 'economy of mental effort,' 
a way which makes for 'a sensation of the relative ease of the process.' Aesthetic 
feeling is the reaction to this economy. This is how the academician Ovsyaniko- 
Kulikovsky, who undoubtedly read the works of Potebnya attentively, almost 
certainly understood and faithfully summarized the ideas of his teacher. Poteb- 
nya and his numerous disciples consider poetry a special kind of thinking - 
thinking by means of images; they feel that the purpose of imagery is to help 
channel various objects and activities into groups and to clarify the unknown 
by means of the known. [. . .] 

'Without imagery there is no art' - 'Art is thinking in images.' These maxims 
have led to far-fetched interpretations of individual works of art. Attempts have 
been made to evaluate even music, architecture, and lyric poetry as imagistic 
thought. After a quarter of a century of such attempts Ovsyaniko-Kulikovsky 
finally had to assign lyric poetry, architecture, and music to a special category 
of imageless art and to define them as lyric arts appealing directly to the 
emotions. And thus he admitted an enormous area of art which is not a mode 
of thought. A part of this area, lyric poetry (narrowly considered), is quite like 
the visual arts; it is also verbal. But, much more important, visual art passes 
quite imperceptibly into nonvisual art; yet our perceptions of both are similar. 

Nevertheless, the definition 'Art is thinking in images,' which means (I omit 
the usual middle terms of the argument) that art is the making of symbols, has 
survived the downfall of the theory which supported it. It survives chiefly in 
the wake of Symbolism, especially among the theorists of the Symbolist move- 
ment. 
* * * 

Potebnya's conclusion, which can be formulated 'poetry equals imagery,' gave 
rise to the whole theory that 'imagery equals symbolism,' that the image may 
serve as the invariable predicate of various subjects. [. . .] The conclusion stems 
partly from the fact that Potebnya did not distinguish between the language of 
poetry and the language of prose. Consequently, he ignored the fact that there 
are two aspects of imagery: imagery as a practical means of thinking, as a means 



le& 



276 Rationalization and Transformation 

of placing objects within categories; and imagery as poetic, as a means of 
reinforcing an impression. I shall clarify with an example. I want to attract the 
attention of a young child who is eating bread and butter and getting the butter 
on her fingers. I call, 'Hey, butterfingers!' This is a figure of speech, a clearly 
prosaic trope. Now a different example. The child is playing with my glasses 
and drops them. I call, 'Hey, butterfingers!' This figure of speech is a poetic 
trope. (In the first example, 'butterfingers' is metonymic; in the second, 
metaphoric - but this is not what I want to stress.) 

Poetic imagery is a means of creating the strongest possible impression. As a 
method it is, depending upon its purpose, neither more nor less effective than 
other poetic techniques; it is neither more nor less effective than ordinary or 
negative parallelism, comparison, repetition, balanced structure, hyperbole, the 
commonly accepted rhetorical figures, and all those methods which emphasize 
the emotional effect of an expression (including words or even articulated 
sounds). But poetic imagery only externally resembles either the stock imagery 
of fables and ballads or thinking in images [ . . . ] 

The law of the economy of creative effort is also generally accepted. [Herbert] 
Spencer wrote: 

On seeking for some clue to the law underlying these current maxims, we may 
see shadowed forth in many of them, the importance of economizing the reader's 
or the hearer's attention. To so present ideas that they may be apprehended with 
the least possible mental effort, is the desideratum towards which most of the 
rules above quoted point. . . . Hence, carrying out the metaphor that language is 
the vehicle of thought, there seems reason to think that in all cases the friction 
and inertia of the vehicle deduct from its efficiency; and that in composition, the 
chief, if not the sole thing to be done, is to reduce this friction and inertia to the 
smallest possible amount. 

These ideas about the economy of energy, as well as about the law and aim 
of creativity, are perhaps true in their application to 'practical' language; they 
were, however, extended to poetic language. Hence they do not distinguish 
properly between the laws of practical language and the laws of poetic language. 
The fact that Japanese poetry has sounds not found in conversational Japanese 
was hardly the first factual indication of the differences between poetic and 
everyday language. Leo Jakubinsky has observed that the law of the dissimilation 
of liquid sounds does not apply to poetic language. This suggested to him that 
poetic language tolerated the admission of hard-to-pronounce conglomerations 
of similar sounds. In his article, one of the first examples of scientific criticism, 
he indicates inductively the contrast . . . between the laws of poetic language and 
the laws of practical language. 

We must, then, speak about the laws of expenditure and economy in poetic 
language not on the basis of an analogy with prose, but on the basis of the laws 
of poetic language. 

If we start to examine the general laws of perception, we see that as perception 
becomes habitual, it becomes automatic. Thus, for example, all of our habits 



IIIc Abstraction and Form 277 

retreat into the area of the unconsciously automatic; if one remembers the 
sensations of holding a pen or of speaking in a foreign language for the first 
time and compares that with his feeling at performing the action for the ten 
thousandth time, he will agree with us. Such habituation explains the principles 
by which, in ordinary speech, we leave phrases unfinished and words half 
expressed. [. . .] 

[ . . . ] By this 'algebraic' method of thought we apprehend objects only as 
shapes with imprecise extensions; we do not see them in their entirety but rather 
recognize them by their main characteristics. We see the object as though it 
were enveloped in a sack. We know what it is by its configuration, but we see 
only its silhouette. The object, perceived thus in the manner of prose perception, 
fades and does not leave even a first impression; ultimately even the essence of 
what it was is forgotten. Such perception explains why we fail to hear the prose 
word in its entirety . . . and, hence, why (along with other slips of the tongue) 
we fail to pronounce it. The process of 'algebrization,' the over-automatization 
of an object, permits the greatest economy of perceptive effort. [. . .] 

[. . .] Habitualization devours works, clothes, furniture, one's wife, and the 
fear of war. 'If the whole complex lives of many people go on unconsciously, 
then such lives are as if they had never been.' And art exists that one may 
recover the sensation of life; it exists to make one feel things, to make the stone 
stony. The purpose of art is to impart the sensation of things as they are 
perceived and not as they are known. The technique of art is to make objects 
'unfamiliar,' to make forms difficult, to increase the difficulty and length of 
perception because the process of perception is an aesthetic end in itself and 
must be prolonged. Art is a way of experiencing the artfulness of an object; the 
object is not important. 

[. . .] Art removes objects from the automatism of perception in several ways. 

* * * 

[. . .] I personally feel that defamiliarization is found almost everywhere form 
is found. In other words, the difference between Potebnya's point of view and 
ours is this: An image is not a permanent referent for those mutable complexities 
of life which are revealed through it; its purpose is not to make us perceive 
meaning, but to create a special perception of the object - it creates a 'vision ' 
of the object instead of serving as a means for knowing it. 

* * * 

In studying poetic speech in its phonetic and lexical structure as well as in 
its characteristic distribution of words and in the characteristic thought struc- 
tures compounded from the words, we find everywhere the artistic trademark 
- that is, we find material obviously created to remove the automatism of 
Perception; the author's purpose is to create the vision which results from that 
deautomatized perception. A work is created 'artistically' so that its perception 
is impeded and the greatest possible effect is produced through the slowness of 
the perception. [...] Leo Jakubinsky has demonstrated the principle of 
phonetic 'roughening' of poetic language in the particular case of the repetition 
of identical sounds. The language of poetry is, then, a difficult, roughened, 
impeded language. In a few special instances the language of poetry approximates 



278 Rationalization and Transformation 

the language of prose, but this does not violate the principle of 'roughened' 
form. 

Her sister was called Tatyana. 
For the first time we shall 
Wilfully brighten the delicate 
Pages of a novel with such a name. 

wrote Pushkin. The usual poetic language for Pushkin's contemporaries was the 
elegant style of Derzhavin; but Pushkin's style, because it seemed trivial then, 
was unexpectedly difficult for them. We should remember the consternation of 
Pushkin's contemporaries over the vulgarity of his expressions. He used the 
popular language as a special device for prolonging attention, just as his 
contemporaries generally used Russian words in their usually French speech 
(see Tolstoy's examples in War and Peace). 

Just now a still more characteristic phenomenon is under way. Russian literary 
language, which was originally foreign to Russia, has so permeated the language 
of the people that it has blended with their conversation. On the other hand, 
literature has now begun to show a tendency towards the use of dialects 
(Remizov, Klyuyev, Essenin, and others, so unequal in talent and so alike in 
language, are intentionally provincial) and of barbarisms (which gave rise to the 
Severyanin group). And currently Maxim Gorky is changing his diction from 
the old literary language to the new literary colloquialism of Leskov. Ordinary 
speech and literary language have thereby changed places (see the work of 
Vyacheslav Ivanov and many others). And finally, a strong tendency, led by 
Khlebnikov, to create a new and properly poetic language has emerged. In the 
light of these developments we can define poetry as attenuated, tortuous speech. 
Poetic speech is formed speech. Prose is ordinary speech [ . . . ] 



3 De Stijl: 'Manifesto 1' 

The De Stiji group was founded in Holland in 1917, dedicated to a synthesis of art, 
design and architecture. Its leading figure was Theo van Doesburg. Other members 
included Gerrit Rietveld and J. J. P. Oud, both architect-designers, and the painters 
Georges Vantongerloo and Piet Mondrian. Links were established with the Bauhaus in 
Weimar Germany, and with similar projects in Russia, particularly through contacts with 
El Lissitsky, The 'Manifesto', principally the work of van Doesburg, was composed in 
1918. It was published in the group's journal De Stijl, V, no. 4, Amsterdam, 1922. The 
present translation by Nicholas Bullock is taken from Stephen Bann (ed.), The Tradition 
of Constructivism, London, 1974. 

1 There is an old and a new consciousness of time. 
The old is connected with the individual. 
The new is connected with the universal. 

The struggle of the individual against the universal is revealing itself in the 
world war as well as in the art of the present day. 



jiff 



Illc Abstraction and Form 279 

The war is destroying the old world and its contents: individual domination 

in every state. 

The new art has brought forward what the new consciousness of time 

contains: a balance between the universal and the individual. 

The new consciousness is prepared to realize the internal life as well as the 

external life. 

Traditions, dogmas, and the domination of the individual are opposed to 

this realization. 

The founders of the new plastic art, therefore, call upon all who believe in 

the reformation of art and culture to eradicate these obstacles to development, 

as in the new plastic art (by excluding natural form) they have eradicated 

that which blocks pure artistic expression, the ultimate consequence of all 

concepts of art. 

The artists of today have been driven the whole world over by the same 

consciousness, and therefore have taken part from an intellectual point of 

view in this war against the domination of individual despotism. They 

therefore sympathize with all who work to establish international unity in 

life, art, culture, either intellectually or materially. [. . .] 



4 Theo van Doesburg (1883-1931) from Principles of 
Neo-Plastic Art 

This was van Doesburg's main statement of the principles of De Stijl. It was begun as 
early as 1915, first published in Dutch in 1919, and subsequently issued in German by 
the Bauhaus, as Grundbegriffe der Neuen Gestalden Kunst, Bauhausbuch, vol. 6, 
Munich, 1925. The present extract is taken from the English translation by Janet 
Seligman, London, 1969. 

XX If an object of experience as such enters visibly into the work this 
object is an auxiliary means within the expressional means. The mode 
of expression will in this event be inexact. 

XXI When the aesthetic experience is expressed directly through the 
creative means of the branch of art in question, the mode of expression 
will be exact. 1 

Example 5 

When we look at old paintings, e.g., one by someone like Nicolas Poussin, we 
are struck by the fact that the human figures are portrayed in physical attitudes 
which we are unaccustomed to see in daily life, yet their corporeality is 
convincingly reproduced; the landscape too has clearly been improved. The 
leaves on the trees, the grass on the ground, the hills, the sky, all are true to 
life and yet the painter did not intend all this to be so. The attitudes and 
gestures of these people, the exact spot on which the individual figures stand 
and the relationship of the groups of figures to the surrounding space and the 
areas of space in between are far from being fortuitous or natural. Stress has 
clearly been laid upon attitudes and relationships. Everything has obviously been 



280 Rationalization and Transformation 

carefully pondered. Everything is governed by fixed laws. Even the light, 
uniformly strong over the whole canvas, differs from natural light. 

Such a painting is in a high degree true to life and yet, as a result of definite 
intentions on the part of the painter, it differs from nature. Why? Because the 
artist was working according to artistic and aesthetic laws (constructively 
organizing) and not purely from the point of view of natural objective legibility. 
The painter was more concerned about aesthetic purposes than about natural 
forms. 

Instead of allowing the picturesque fortuitousness and diversity of nature to 
predominate, he seeks to achieve expression of a universal idea by purposeful 
organization of the figures and subordination of the details. Thus he appears to 
neglect the laws of nature in favour of those of artistic creation. He uses natural 
forms only as a means of attaining his artistic aim. 2 

The aim is: to create a harmonious whole in which the equilibrium of the 
whole, an aesthetic unity, is achieved by means of multiple exchanges and by 
cancelling out the positions and postures of the figures, the areas of space and 
masses and lines of movement in the picture (by relationships). 

Indeed up to a point this artistic harmony is achieved. Up to a point, because 
the artistic aim is not sought directly through the artistic means, but only 
indirectly, obscured behind natural forms. Neither colour nor form appears in 
its pure state as colour and form. Rather colour and form are used to assist in 
producing an illusion of some other thing, e.g., leaves, glass, limbs, silk, stone, 
etc. 

Such a work of art is the artistic idea expressed by naturalistic means. 

It is an aesthetic-naturalistic work of art. 

It deviates from external nature in so far as it is aesthetic (more inward); it 
deviates from the aesthetic idea in so far as it is naturalistic. It is, so to speak, 
split and is thus not an unambiguously and exactly formative work. 

The aim of the formative artist is simply this: to give form to his aesthetic 
experience of reality or, one might also say, his creative experience of the 
fundamental essence of things. The visual artist can leave the repetition of 
stories, fairy-tales, etc., to poets and writers. The only way in which visual art 
can be developed and deployed is by revaluing and purifying the formative 
means. Arms, legs, trees, and landscapes are not unequivocally painterly means. 
Painterly means are: colours, forms, lines, and planes. 

Taking the development of visual art as a whole, we can, in fact, see the 
means becoming increasingly clearly defined and providing the possibility of 
purely formative expression for the artistic experience. Since these formative 
means have made their appearance as the principal visible factor, everything 
in painting, sculpture, and, to some extent, in architecture which has no 
immediate place among the purely expressional means has been relegated to the 
background. 

It is unnecessary to record every stage in the development of their importance 
in the evolution towards an exact artistic expression. We may summarize all 
these various currents, whether or not they belong to systems as: the conquest 
of an exact expressional form of the aesthetic experience of reality. 



w 



Hie Abstraction and Form 281 

The essence of the formative idea (of aesthetics) is expressed by the term 
cancellation. 

One element cancels out another. 

This cancelling out of one element by another is expressed in nature as well 
as in art. In nature, more or less concealed behind the accidents of the particular 
case, in art (at least in the exact, formative kind), clearly revealed. 

Although we cannot grasp the perfect harmony, the absolute equilibrium of 
the universe, each and everything in the universe (every motif) is nevertheless 
subordinated to the laws of this harmony, this equilibrium. It is the artist's 
business to discover and give form to this concealed harmony, this universal 
equilibrium of things, to demonstrate its conformity to its own laws, etc. 
' The (truly exact) work of art is a metaphor of the universe obtained with 
artistic means. 

We saw in example 5 that artistic equilibrium was achieved in the work of 
art of an earlier age by the repeated cancelling out of one figural position by 
another, one dimension by another, etc.; by, therefore, a reciprocal cancelling 
out of means borrowed from nature. 

The great step forward made by the exact formative work of art consists in 
the fact that it achieves aesthetic equilibrium by pure artistic means and by 
these alone. 

In the exact, formative work of art the formative idea is given direct and 
actual expression by continual cancelling out of the expressional means: thus a 
horizontal position is cancelled out by a vertical one, similarly dimension (large 
by small) and proportion (broad by narrow). One plane is cancelled out by 
another which circumscribes it or one which is related to it, etc., the same 
applies to colour: one colour is cancelled out by another (e.g., yellow by blue, 
white by black), one group of colours by another group of colours and all 
coloured planes are cancelled out by non-coloured planes and vice versa. 3 In 
this way (according to Piet Mondrian: 'Neue Gestaltung' in the Bauhausbiicher, 
Vol. 5), by means of a constant cancelling out of position, dimension, proportion 
and colour, a harmonious overall relationship, artistic equilibrium, is achieved 
and with it, in the most exact manner, the aim of the artist: to create a formative 
harmony, to give truth in the way of beauty. The artist no longer embodies his 
idea by indirect representation: symbols, slices of life, genre scenes, etc.; he gives 
form to his idea directly and purely by the artistic means available for the purpose. 

The work of art becomes an independent, artistically alive (plastic) organism 
in which everything counterbalances everything else. 

The artist is, of course, entirely free to make use of any science (e.g., mathematics), any technique 

2 ( e -8-» printing-press, machine, etc.) and any material whatever, to achieve this exactitude. 
What the decadents of Cubism with their 'superrealism' are now almost without exception aiming 
at is exactly the same thing: a classical, painterly harmony achieved by means borrowed from 
nature. That in this process the natural forms are not intended as such but are to be regarded 
only as objective phenomena, makes, from the artistic point of view, no fundamental difference. 

3 One might label this movement Neo-Baroque. 

In Impressionism this cancelling out was expressed intuitively. In order to achieve a harmonious 
impression one colour was cancelled out by another. Hence the expression: colour-relationship. 



282 Rationalization and Transformation 

5 Piet Mondrian (1872-1944) 'Dialogue on the New 
Plastic' 

Mondrian absorbed the lessons of Cubism during a stay in Paris before the First World 
War. He returned to Holland in 1914. There he developed both the practice of a new 
abstract art and the theoretical principles underlying it. One of the most extensive early 
attempts to explain the principles of his new art took the form of a dialogue with a 
doubting critic. By the device of identifying this critic as a singer, Mondrian was enabled 
to use musical analogies in his explanations. The essay was originally published as 
'Dialoog over de Nieuwe Beelding' in two issues of De Stijl, Leiden, February and March 
1919. (It should be noted that the Dutch term beelding carries connotations of forming 
and making absent from the more basically material sense of 'plastic'.) The present 
extract is taken from the English translation in Harry Holzman and Martin S. James 
(eds. and trans.), The New Art - The New Life: The Collected Writings of Piet Mondrian, 
Boston, 1986. 

A: A Singer 

B\ A Painter 

A: I admire your earlier work. Because it means so much to me, I would like 
better to understand your present way of painting. I see nothing in these 
rectangles. What are you aiming at? 

B: My new paintings have the same aim as the previous ones. Both have the 
same aim, but my latest work brings it out more clearly. 

A: And what is that? 

B: To express relationships plastically through oppositions of color and line. 

A: But didn't your earlier work represent nature} 

B: I expressed myself by means of nature. But if you carefully observe the 
sequence of my work, you will see that it progressively abandoned the 
naturalistic appearance of things and increasingly emphasized the plastic 
expression of relationships. 

A: Do you find, then, that natural appearance interferes with the plastic 
expression of relationships? 

B: You must agree that if two words are sung with the same strength, with 
the same emphasis, each weakens the other. One cannot express both natural 
appearance as we see it and plastic relationships with the same determinate- 
ness. In naturalistic form, in naturalistic color, and in naturalistic line, plastic 
relationships are veiled. To be expressed plastically in a determinate way, 
relationships must be represented only through color and line. In the capa- 
ciousness of nature, form and color are weakened by curvature and by the 
corporeality of things. To give the means of expression of painting their full value 
in my earlier work, I increasingly allowed color and line to speak for themselves. 

A: But how can color and line as such, without the form we perceive in nature, 
express anything determinately? 

B: To express plastically color and line means to establish opposition through 
color and line; and this opposition expresses plastic relationship. Relationship 
is what I have always sought, and that is what all painting seeks to express. 



IIIc Abstraction and Form 283 

A: But painting always used nature for plastic expression and through the 
beauty of nature was elevated to the ideal. 

B: Yes, it rose to the ideal through the beauty of nature; but in plastic expression 
the ideal is something other than the mere representation of natural appear- 
ance. 

A: But doesn't the ideal exist only in us? 

B: It exists in us and outside of us. The ancients said that the ideal is everywhere 
and in everything. In any case, the ideal is manifested aesthetically as beauty. 
But what did you mean a moment ago by 'the beauty of nature'? 

A: I had in mind, for example, an ancient work, an image said to contain all 
the beauty of the human form, 

B: Well, think for a moment of masterpieces of the so-called realistic schools, 
which show none of this ideal beauty and nevertheless express beauty. 
Comparing these two types of art, you will already see that not only the 
beauty of nature but also its so-called ugliness can move us or, as you say, 
elevate us toward the ideal. Neither subject matter, the representation, nor 
nature itself creates the beauty of painting. They merely establish the type of 
beauty by determining the composition, the color, and the form. 

A: But that is not how a layman thinks of it, although what you say seems 
plausible. Nevertheless, I cannot imagine relationships expressed otherwise 
than by means of some subject matter or representation and not just through 
a composition of color and line alone; just as I can't appreciate sounds without 
melody - a sound composition by one of our modern composers means nothing 
to me. 

B: In painting you must first try to see composition, color, and line and not the 
representation as representation. Then you will finally come to feel the subject 
matter a hindrance. 

A: When I recall your transitional work, where color that was not true to nature 
to some extent destroyed the subject matter, I do see more clearly that beauty 
can be created, even far more forcefully created, without verisimilitude. For 
those paintings gave me a far stronger aesthetic sensation than purely natur- 
alistic painting. But surely the color must have form} 

B: Form or the illusion of form; anyway, color must be clearly delimited if it 
is to represent anything plastically. In what you call my transitional work, 
you rightly saw that the subject matter was neutralized by a free expression 
of color. But you must also see that its plastic expression was determined by 
form that still remained largely true to nature. To harmonize color and form, 
the subject matter of the painting, and therefore the form, was carefully 
selected. If I aimed, for instance, to express vastness and extension, the subject 
was chosen with this in mind. The plastic idea took on various expressions, 
according to whether it was a dune landscape or the sea or a church that 
formed the subject. You remember my flowers; they too were carefully 
'chosen' from the many varieties there are. Didn't you find that they had yet 
'another' expression than my seascapes, dunes, and churches? 

A: Indeed! To me the flowers conveyed something more intimate, as it were; 
while the sea, dunes, and churches spoke more directly of 'space.' 



284 Rationalization and Transformation 

B: So you see the importance of form. A closed form, such as a flower, says 
something other than an open curved line as in the dunes, and something 
else again than the straight line of a church or the radiating petals of some 
other flowers, for example. By comparing, you see that a particular form 
makes a particular impression, that line has plastic power and that the most 
tensed line most purely expresses immutability, strength, and vastness. 

A: But I still don't understand why you favor the straight line and have come 
entirely to exclude the curved. 

B: The search for the expression of vastness led to the search for the greatest 
tension: the straight line; because all curvature resolves into the straight, no 
place remains for the curved. 

A: Did you come to this conclusion suddenly? 

B: No, very gradually. First I abstracted the capricious, then the freely curved, 
and finally the mathematically curved. 

A: So it was through this abstracting that you came to exclude all naturalistic 
representation and subject matter? 

B: That's right, through the work itself. The theories I just mentioned concern- 
ing these exclusions came afterward. Consistent abstracting led me to exclude 
the visible-concrete completely from my plastic expression. In painting a tree 
I progressively abstracted the curves: you can understand that very little 'tree' 
remained. 

A: But can't a tree be represented with straight lines? 

B: Perfectly true. Now I see something is lacking in my explanation: abstraction 
alone is not enough to eliminate the naturalistic from painting. Line and color 
must be composed otherwise than in nature. 

A: Then what the painter calls composition also changes too? 

B: Yes, an entirely different composition, more mathematical but not symmet- 
rical, is needed in order to achieve pure plastic expression of equilibrated 
relationship. Merely to express the natural with straight lines still remains 
naturalistic reproduction even though the effect is already much stronger. 

A: But won't such abstracting and transformed composition make everything 
look alike} 

B: That is a necessity rather than a hindrance, if we wish to express plastically 
what all things have in common instead of what sets them apart. Thus the 
particular, which diverts us from what is essential, disappears; only the 
universal remains. The depiction of objects gives way to pure plastic express- 
ion of relationship. 

A: Our talk yesterday showed me that Abstract Painting grew out of naturalistic 
painting. It became clear to me mainly because I know your earlier work. 
Then Abstract Painting is not just intellectual but also the product of feeling} 

B: Of both: deeper feeling and deeper intellect. When feeling is deepened, in 
many eyes it is destroyed. That is why the deeper emotion of the New Plastic 
is so little understood. But one must learn to see Abstract-Real painting, just 
as the painter had to learn to create in an abstract-real way. It represents the 
process of life that is reflected in the plastic expression of art. People too often 



Illc Abstraction and Form 285 

view the work of art as a luxury, something merely pleasant, even as a 
decoration, as something that lies outside life. Yet art and life are one; art and 
life are both expressions of truth. If, for instance, we see that equilibrated 
relationships in society signify what is just, then one realizes that in art too 
the demands of life press forward when the spirit of the time is ripe. 

A: I am very sympathetic to the unity of art and life, yet life is the main thing! 

B: All expressions of life - religion, social life, art, etc. - always have a common 
basis. We should go into that further; there is so much to say. Some have 
felt this strongly and it led one of us to found De Stijl. 

A: I have looked at De Stijl, but it was not very easy for me to understand. 

B: I recommend repeated reading. But the ideas that De Stijl expounds can 
give you no more than a conception of the essence of the New Plastic and its 
connection with life: the content of the New Plastic can be seen only in the 
work itself. Only through intuitive feeling, through long contemplation and 
comparison, can one come to complete appreciation of the new. 

A: Perhaps so, but I still feel that art will be much impoverished if the natural 
is eliminated. 

B: How can its expression be impoverished if it conveys more clearly what is 
important and essential to the work of art? 

A: But the straight line alone can say so little. 

B: The straight line tells the truth; and the significance you want it to have is 
of no value for painting; such significance is literary, preconceived. Painting 
has to be purely plastic, and in order to achieve this it must use plastic means 
that do not signify the individual. This also justifies the use of rectangular 
color planes. 

A: Does this hold for classical painting, in fact for all previous painting, which 
always represented appearance? 

B: Indeed, if you really understand that all pure painting aimed to be purely 
plastic, then the consequent application of this idea not only justifies universal 
plastic means but demands it. Unintentionally, naturalistic painting gives too 
much prominence to the particular. The universal is what all art seeks to 
express: therefore, the New Plastic is justified relative to all painting. 

A: But is the New Plastic justified in relation to nature} 

B: If you understood that the New Plastic expresses the essential of everything, 
you would not ask that question. Besides, art is a duality of nature-and-man 
and not nature alone. Man transforms nature according to his own image; 
when man expresses his deepest being, thus manifesting his inwardness, he 
must necessarily interwrize natural appearance. 

A: Then you don't despise nature? 

B: On the contrary. For the New Plastic, too, nature is that great manifestation 
through which our deepest being is revealed and assumes concrete appearance. 

A: Nevertheless, to follow nature seems to me the true path. 

B: The appearance of nature is far stronger and much more beautiful than any 
imitation of it can ever be; if we wish to reflect nature, fully, we are compelled 
to find another plastic. Precisely for the sake of nature, of reality, we avoid 
its natural appearance. 



286 Rationalization and Transformation 



Hie Abstraction and Form 287 



But nature manifests itself in an indefinite variety of forms; do you show 
nothing of this? 

I see reality as a unity; what is manifested in all its appearances is one and 
the same: the immutable. We try to express this plastically as purely as possible. 

It seems reasonable to take the immutable as the basis: the changeable 
provides nothing solid. But what do you call immutable? 

The plastic expression of immutable relationship: the relationship of two straight 
lines perpendicular to each other. 

Is there no danger of monotony in so consistently expressing the immutable? 

The danger exists, but the artist, not the plastic method, would create it. 
The New Plastic has its oppositions, its rhythm, its technique, its composition, 
and these not only give scope for the plastic expression of life, of movement, 
but they still contain so much of the changeable that it is still difficult for 
the artist to find pure plastic expression of the immutable. 

Nevertheless, in what little I have seen of the New Plastic, I noticed just 
this monotony; I failed to experience the inspiration, the deep emotion that 
more naturalistic painting gives me. It is what I fail to hear in the composi- 
tions of modern music; as I said earlier, the recent tone combinations without 
melody fail to stir me as music with melody does. 

But surely an equilibrated composition of pure tone relationships should be 
able to stir one even more deeply. 

How can you say that, not being a musician! 

I can say it because, fundamentally, all art is one. Painting has shown me 
that the equilibrated composition of color relationships ultimately surpasses 
naturalistic composition and naturalistic plastic - when the aim is to express 
equilibrium, harmony, as purely as possible. 

I agree that the essential of art is the creation of harmony, but . . . 

But harmony does not mean the same thing to everyone and does not speak 
to everyone in the same way. That is why it is so easy to understand that 
there are differences in the modes of plastic expression. 

Then this leaves room for naturalistic painting and melody in music. But 
do you mean they will be outgrown in the future? 

The more purely we perceive harmony, the more purely we will plastically 
express relationships of color and of sound; this seems logical to me. 

So the New Plastic is the end of painting? 

Insofar as there can be no purer plastic expression of equilibrated relation- 
ships - in art. The New Plastic was born only yesterday and has yet to reach 
its culmination. 

Then it could become completely different? 

Not completely. But in any case, the New Plastic could not return to 
naturalistic or form expression, for it grew out of these. It is bound to the 
fixed law of art, which as I said, is the unity of man and nature. If in this 
duality the New Plastic is to create pure relationships and therefore unity, it 
cannot allow the natural to predominate; therefore, it must remain abstract. 

I now see more and more that I thought of painting as representation of 
the visible, whereas it is possible in painting to express beauty in quite another 



way. Perhaps one day I will come to love the New Plastic as you do, but so 
far". . . 
p: If you see both naturalistic painting and the New Plastic from a purely 
plastic point of view, that is, distinct from subject matter or the expressive 
means, then you will see but one thing in both: the plastic expression of 
relationship. If from the point of view of painting you can thus see beauty in 
one mode of expression, you will also see it in the other. [. . .] 



6 Piet Mondrian (1872-1944) Neo-Plasticism: the 
General Principle of Plastic Equivalence 

Mondrian returned to Paris in 1919. The present essay was written in 1920 and marked 
the first exposition of his ideas in French. Mondrian himself considered it definitive, 
claiming in 1932 to have done 'nothing further' in writing. Mondrian was included by 
Leonce Rosenberg in his exhibition 'Masters of Cubism' of 1921, and the essay was 
published as a pamphlet, Le Neo-Plasticisme: Principe general de /'equivalence plas- 
tique, by Rosenberg's Galerie de I'Effort Moderne in Paris, January 1921. The present 
version is taken from Holzman and James, op. cit. 

Although art is the plastic expression of our aesthetic emotion, we cannot 
therefore conclude that art is only 'the aesthetic expression of our subjective 
Sensations/ Logic demands that art be the plastic expression of our whole being: 
therefore, it must be equally the plastic appearance of the nonindividual, the 
absolute and annihilating opposition of subjective sensations. That is, it must 
also be the direct expression of the universal in us - which is the exact appearance 
of the universal outside us. 

The universal thus understood is that which is and remains constant: the more 
or less unconscious in us, as opposed to the more or less conscious - the individual, 
which is repeated and renewed. 

Our whole being is as much the one as the other: the unconscious and the 
conscious, the immutable and the mutable, emerging and changing form through their 
reciprocal action. 

This action contains all the misery and all the happiness of life: misery is 
caused by continual separation, happiness by perpetual rebirth of the changeable. 
The immutable is beyond all misery and all happiness: it is equilibrium. 

Through the immutable in us, we are united with all things; the mutable 
destroys our equilibrium, limits us, and separates us from all that is other than 
us. It is from this equilibrium, from the unconscious, from the immutable that art 
comes. It attains its plastic expression through the conscious. In this way, the 
appearance of art is plastic expression of the unconscious and of the conscious. It 
shows the relationship of each to the other: its appearance changes, but art 
remains immutable. 

In 'the totality of our being' the individual or the universal may dominate, 
or equilibrium between the two may be approached. [...] In all the arts 
objective fought against subjective, universal against individual: pure plastic 



288 Rationalization and Transformation 

expression against descriptive expression. Thus art tended toward equilibrated 
plastic. 

Disequilibrium between individual and universal creates the tragic and is 
expressed as tragic plastic. In whatever exists as form or corporeality, the natural 
dominates: this creates the tragic . . . 

The tragic in life leads to artistic creation: art, because it is abstract and in 
opposition to the natural concrete, can anticipate the gradual disappearance of 
the tragic. The more the tragic diminishes, the more art gains in purity. 

The new spirit can manifest itself only in the midst of the tragic. It finds 
only the old form, for the new plastic is yet to be created. Born in the 
environment of the past, it can be expressed only in the vital reality of the 
abstract. . . . 

Because it is part of the whole, the new spirit cannot free itself entirely from 
the tragic. The New Plastic, expressing the vital reality of the abstract, has not 
entirely freed itself from the tragic but it has ceased to be dominated by it. 

In contrast, in the old plastic the tragic dominates. It cannot dispense with 
the tragic and tragic plastic. 

So long as the individual dominates, tragic plastic is necessary, for that is 
what creates its emotion. But as soon as a period of greater maturity is reached, 
tragic plastic becomes insupportable. 
* * * 

For let us not forget that we are at a turning point of culture, at the end of 
everything ancient: the separation between the two is absolute and definite. Whether 
it is recognized or not, one can logically foresee that the future will no longer 
understand tragic plastic, just like an adult who cannot understand the soul of 
the child. 

At the same time as it suppresses the dominating tragic, the new spirit 
suppresses description in art. Because the obstacle of form has been destroyed, 
the new art affirms itself as pure plastic. The new spirit has found its plastic 
expression. In its maturity, the one and the other are neutralized, and they are 
coupled into unity. Confusion in the apparent unity of interior and exterior has 
been resolved into an equivalent duality forming absolute unity. The individual 
and the universal are in more equilibrated opposition. Because they are merged in 
unity, description becomes superfluous: the one is known through the other. They 
are plastically expressed without use of form: their relationship alone (through 
direct plastic means) creates the plastic. 

It is in painting that the New Plastic achieved complete expression for the 
first time. This plastic could be formulated because its principle was solidly 
established, and it continues to perfect itself unceasingly. 

Neo-Plasticism has its roots in Cubism. It can equally be called Abstract-Real 
painting because the abstract (just like the mathematical sciences but without 
attaining the absolute, as they do) can be expressed by plastic reality. In fact, 
this is the essential characteristic of the New Plastic in painting. It is a 
composition of rectangular color planes that expresses the most profound reality- 
It achieves this by plastic expression of relationships and not by natural appearance. 
It realizes what all painting has always sought but could express only in a veiled 



IIlc Abstraction and Form 289 

manner. The colored planes, as much by position and dimension as b\- the 
greater value given to color, plastically express only reldtionships and not forms. 

The New Plastic brings its relationships into aesthetic equilibrium and therebv 
expresses the new harmony. 

The future of the New Plastic and its true realization in painting H es j n 
chromoplastic in architecture ... It governs the interior as well as the exterior of 
the building and includes everything that plastically expresses relationships 
through color. No more than the 'New Plastic-as-painting, ' which prepares the 
way for it, can chromoplastic be regarded as 'decoration.' It is entirely new 
painting in which all painting is resolved, pictorial as well as decorative. It unites 
the objective character of decorative art (but much more strongly) with the 
subjective character of pictorial art (but much more profoundly). At this moment 
for material and technical reasons, it is very difficult to foresee its exact image! 

At present each art strives to express itself more directly through its plastic 
means and seeks to free its means as much as possible. 

Music tends toward the liberation of sound, literature toward the liberation of 
word. Thus, by purifying their plastic means, they achieve the pure plastic of 
relationships. The degree and mode of purification vary with the art and the 
epoch in which they can be attained. 

In fact, the new spirit is revealed by the plastic means: it is expressed through 
composition. Composition must express equilibrated plastic as a function f the 
individual and of the universal. Dominating tragic must be abolished by com- 
position and plastic means together: for if plastic appearance is not composed 
in constant and neutralizing opposition, the plastic means would return to the 
expression of 'form' and would be veiled anew by the descriptive. 

Thus Neo-Plasticism in art is not simply a question of 'technique.' In the New 
Plastic, and through it, technique changes. The touchstone of the new spirit 
next to composition, is precisely what is so often lightly called 'technique: 

'It is by appearance that one judges whether a work of art is really pure plastic 
expression of the universal'. . . . 

Because sculpture and painting have been able to reduce their primitive plastic 
means to universal plastic means, they can find effective plastic expression in 
exactness and in the abstract. Architecture by its very nature already has at its 
disposal a plastic means free of the capricious form of natural appearance. 

In the New Plastic, painting no longer expresses itself through the corporeality 
°f appearance that gives it a naturalistic expression. To the contrary, painting 
is expressed plastically by plane within plane. By reducing three-dimensional 
corporeality to a single plane, it expresses pure relationship. 
* * * 

• . . the new spirit must be manifested in all the arts without exception. That 
there are differences between the arts is no reason that one should be valued 
fess than the other; that can lead to another appearance but not to an opposed 
a Ppearance. As soon as one art becomes plastic expression of the abstract the 
others can no longer remain plastic expressions of the natural. The two do not 
$o together: from this comes their mutual hostility down to the present. The 
New Plastic abolishes this antagonism: it creates the unity of all the arts,. [. 1 



290 Rationalization and Transformation 

Sculpture and architecture, until the present, destroy space as space by 
dividing it. The new sculpture and architecture must destroy the work of art as 
an object or thing. 

Each art possesses its own specific expression, its particular nature. 'Although 
the content of all art is one, the possibilities of plastic expression are different 
for each art. Each art discovers these possibilities within its own domain and 
must remain limited by its bounds. Each art possesses its own means of expression: 
the transformation of its plastic means has to be discovered independently by 
each art and must remain limited by its own bounds. Therefore the potentialities 
of one art cannot be judged according to the potentialities of another, but must 
be considered independently and only with regard to the art concerned . . . '. 

'With the advancing culture of the spirit, all the arts, regardless of differences 
in their expressive means, in one way or another become more and more the 
plastic creation of determinate, equilibrated relationship: for equilibrated rela- 
tionship must purely express the universal, the harmony, the unity that are 
proper to the spirit.' 

. . . through the new spirit, man himself creates a new beauty, whereas in the 
past he only painted and described the beauty of nature. This new beauty has 
become indispensable to the new man, for in it he expresses his own image in 
equivalent opposition with nature. THE NEW ART IS BORN. 



7 Kasimir Malevich (1878-1935) 'Non-Objective Art 
and Suprematism' 

Malevich claimed that Suprematism began in 1913. Its first exposition took place, 
however, in December 1915; the works of 1913 to which he refers were set designs 
(involving squares) for the Futurist opera Victory over the Sun, which he saw as 
significant in the genesis of Suprematism. The Black Square of 1915 had served as a 
zero point from which Malevich could develop a vocabulary of coloured forms, mostly 
rectangular and often giving the appearance of 'flying' in pictorial space. By 1919 he 
believed he had burst through colour into white, the 'colour' of infinity. This text was 
originally published in the catalogue to the 10th State Exhibition, Moscow 1919, at 
which Malevich exhibited his 'White on White' canvases. The present translation is taken 
from Larissa Zhadova, Malevich: Suprematism and Revolution in Russian Art 1910- 
1920, London, 1982. 

The plane which formed a square was the progenitor of Suprematism, the new 
colour realism, as non-objective art (see the pamphlet Cubism, Futurism and 
Suprematism, 1st, 2nd and 3rd editions, 1915 and 1916). [see IIa14] 

Suprematism arose in Moscow in 1913 and the first works which appeared 
at an exhibition of painting in Petrograd aroused indignation among 'papers that 
were then in good standing' and critics, as well as among professionals - the 
leading painters. 

In referring to non-objectivity, I merely wished to make it plain that Suprem- 
atism is not concerned with things, objects, etc., and more: non-objectivity in 





Illc Abstraction and Form 291 

general has nothing to do with it. Suprematism is a definite system in accordance 
tfith which colour has developed throughout the long course of its culture. 

Painting arose from the mixing of colours and - at moments when aesthetic 
warmth brought about a flowering - turned colour into a chaotic mix, so that 
jt was objects as such which served as the pictorial framework for the great 
painters. I found that the closer one came to the culture of painting, the more 
the frameworks (i.e. objects) lost their systematic nature and broke up, thus 
establishing a different order governed by painting. 

It became clear to me that new frameworks of pure colour must be created, 
based on what colour demanded and also that colour, in its turn, must pass out 
of the pictorial mix into an independent unity, a structure in which it would 
be at once individual in a collective environment and individually independent. 

The system is constructed in time and space, independently of any aesthetic 
considerations of beauty, experience or mood, but rather as a philosophical colour 
system, the realization of new trends in my thinking - as a matter of knowledge. 

At the present moment man's path lies across space. Suprematism is the 
semaphore of light in its infinite abyss. 

* The blue colour of the sky has been overcome by the Suprematist system, it has 
Jieen broken through and has entered into while, which is the true actual repre- 
sentation of infinity and therefore freed from the colour background of the sky. 
r. L A hard, cold system, unsmilingly set in motion by philosophical thought. 
Indeed, its real power may already be in motion within this system. 

All the daubings produced by utilitarian intentions are insignificant and 
limited in scope. Their point is merely a matter of application and the past, 
and it arises from recognition and deduction by philosophical thought at the 
level at which we see the cosy nooks that cater for commonplace taste, or create 
anew one. 

bin one of its phases, Suprematism has a purely philosophical impetus, 
cognitive by means of colour: in another, it is a form capable of application by 
making available a new style of Suprematist decoration. 

But it may manifest itself in objects as a transformation or embodiment of 
space within them, thereby removing their singularity from the mind. 

It has become clear as a result of Suprematist philosophical colour thinking 
that the will is able to develop an artistic system when the object has been 
annulled in the artist's mind as a pictorial framework and a vehicle, and that, 
*&long as objects remain a framework and a vehicle, his will must go on gyrating 
Within a compositional circle and among objective forms. 
■ Everything that we see arose from the colour mass transformed into plane 
fcfld volume. Every machine, house, person and table, all are pictorial volume 
Systems intended for particular purposes. 

■ The artist too must transform the colour masses and create an artistic system, 
*** he must not paint little pictures of fragrant roses since all this would be 
« e ad representation pointing back to life. 

* And even if his construction is non-objective, but is based on the inter-relation 
^colours, his will cannot but be confined between the walls of aesthetic planes, 
^stead of achieving philosophical penetration. 



292 Rationalization and Transformation 

I am only free when my will, basing itself critically and philosophically on 
that which exists, is able to formulate a basis for new phenomena. 

I have ripped through the blue lampshade of the constraints of colour. I have 
come out into the white. Follow me, comrade aviators. Swim into the abyss. I 
have set up the semaphores of Suprematism. 

I have overcome the lining of the coloured sky, torn it down and into the 
bag thus formed, put colour, tying it up with a knot. Swim in the white free 
abyss, infinity is before you. 



8 Kasimir Malevich (1878-1935) The Question of 
Imitative Art 

Malevich has been frequently represented as an other-wordly mystic, and after the 
Revolution in Russia he was indeed criticized for Idealism by artists and commentators 
whose own orientation was more explicitly political. Despite his idiosyncrasies, however, 
the present text demonstrates Malevich's cognizance of contemporary events and his 
determination to relate Suprematism to them while refusing the claims of previous styles 
of art adequately to represent the new life. Originally published Smolensk, 1920. The 
present translation is taken from T. Andersen (ed.), K. S. Malevich: Essays on Art 
1915-1933, Vol. I, Copenhagen, 1969. (The 'constituent assembly', it should be noted, 
was the political body of the Provisional Government under Kerensky set up following 
the February Revolution of 1917, and dissolved by the Bolsheviks in the name of the 
Soviets - workers' councils - in October of that year.) 

[ . . . ] After long centuries marking the destruction of the bearers of youth the 
day has come for the clash between youth and age. Today a desperate struggle 
is being carried on with the old man who is trying to stifle youth. Today we 
are witnessing one of the usual mistakes of the old, which does not comprehend 
the movements of new life; today the old men are striving to ensure that there 
may never be another spring: but there will be, for in it lies the birth of a new 
universal step. Today the avant-gardes of economics and politics are fighting to 
gain territory, in order to prepare a place for the foundations of the new world: 
all the young forces are collecting on it and will create a world in their new 
image. Today the man has awoken who shouts for all the world to hear and 
calls all humanity to unity. Our unity is essential for his being: not to obtain 
rights and liberty or to build an economic, utilitarian life, but in order that, by 
the safeguarding of our bodily needs, our being may advance to the single unity 
and wholeness on the path of universal movement, as our main and, indeed, 
only goal. The unity of all humanity is essential, for a new single man of action 
is needed. We wish to form ourselves according to a new pattern, plan and 
system; we wish to build in such a way that all the elements of nature will 
unite with man and create a single, all-powerful image. With this aim the 
economic principle leads us along its path and collects all the lives that have 
been scattered in the chaos of nature, separate and isolated, uniting them in his 
path: thus every personality, every individual, formerly isolated, is now incor- 
porated in the system of united action. 




Ilk; Abstraction and Form 293 

This is why nowadays no individual personality is allowed to have the freedom 
f isolation or to live as it pleases, arranging a personal economic programme 
for its own vegetable-garden, since it must be included in the system of sharing 
and of common freedom and rights; hence the individual has no rights, for the 
rights are common to all, and the individual personality itself is simply a 
fragment from a united being, all of whose fragments must be joined together 
in one, since they originated from one. Thus all the many lives in nature, with 
ail their various advantages, have become incorporated in man and have brought 
him their entire will and wisdom; now only he - man - as a centre can turn 
nature into another new image, which will be nothing less than man himself: a 
completed step on the eternal path. Our new society should occupy itself in 
this way, but in order to begin building we need a plan of action and a system. 
We already know that every aspect of our life is based on the economics of 
subsistence and of movement in general, whence stem politics, rights and liberty. 
Of these the most important is economics, which is the measure of our 
contemporary life: this is how we measure it, and anything that does not come 
tmder this measure is not contemporary. We should, accordingly, apply this 
measure absolutely, to all forms of our expression, in order to be in accordance 
With the general plan for the contemporary development of an organism. Thanks 
fo the economic system, every individual is subject to it, whilst it can no longer 
produce anything apart from the system of sharing. The communist town is not 
arising from the chaos of private buildings, but according to a general plan: the 
form of each building will stem from this plan and not from the whim of 
individual personalities. 

Freedom of the individual can only be in accordance with the common 
freedom; hence no personality has any private property, for all its forms are a 
phenomenon of the general economic movement. Hence arises the collective - 
a group of personalities linked by the agreement of collective individualism on 
the basis of common economic action, and forming a unit of the general unity. 
The joining together of all the collectives is the unity towards which contem- 
porary life is moving. [. . .] None of the forms of economic development and 
bf human consciousness that were found in the old world can exist any longer, 
for a new meaning has appeared. No form of the old can exist, for revolutionary 
perfection is ceaselessly bearing its being further and further by means of our 
consciousness, broadening and deepening space by energic economic reasoning. 
If, on the other hand, we leave the old form, we are serving counter-revolution- 
ary perfection. Each day, in economic and political life, brings purification from 
^hat is old - this is where perfection lies. But in art everything is the other 
w ay round: the older a work the more it is considered valuable, beautiful, artistic 
and skilful, just as in the wine trade old wine is the most prized. They always 
* r y to show the people that old art is valuable and beautiful, at the same time 
stifling, muffling and slandering everything modern. Today, when Revolutionary 
Perfection is bringing a new, youthful world of forms as the body of being, 
reactionary elements dig up and bring out into the street the remains of past 
Perfection, showing them to the masses. It is not shown to aid understanding 
°f the development of form, as an example of old life; no, they strive to prove 



294 Rationalization and Transformation 

and convince that the world of art they have dug up is beautiful, that its beauty 
is the greatest of all, and that it is lofty and difficult; they say that to repeat 
it one would have to possess talent, to be highly skilful and study a great deal, 
whilst modern art is very simple: any fool can draw a square, but no one can 
repeat Raphael or Rubens. But these reactionaries forget that perfection demands 
instantaneous action. Any boy can light a match and get fire in an instant. No 
one remembers the original primitive method of getting fire by rubbing wood 
together, and no one would advocate the old method. They are striving to 
inculcate the new meaning of revolutionary movement into old art. Life threw 
the icon out of people's houses, but now they are showing it dressed up in a 
new meaning. 
* * * 

The movement of the new world is divided in two: on the one hand the 
fighting, destructive avant-garde with the banner of economics, politics, rights 
and freedom, and, on the other hand, the creative army which appears after it, 
creating form for the whole utilitarian and spiritual world of things. Creativity 
is the essence of man, as the highest being in nature, and everyone should take 
up this activity. Creativity changes in the same way as the party's revolutionary 
attitude. People who were formerly considered revolutionaries have now turned 
out to be counter-revolutionaries: the same thing happens in art. In academism 
people saw creativity, painting and form, but with the arrival of new trends it 
turned out to contain neither creativity nor painting nor form. Many people 
think that anything except communism is beneficial to the people; the same sort 
of people think that only academism can produce real art: both are cases of 
blindness to their own real perfection. 

Just as up to now many people have been unable to conceive clearly the form 
of the commune, so many have failed to see form in new art; but those that 
have seen it have also seen a new world for their life. For no better reason than 
that they could see neither form nor art in new art, attacks and persecutions 
were carried out, just as they were in political affairs. Formerly art rested on 
artistic beauty, but now we must embark on the purely creative path of economic 
movement. This is the only road of development for all humanity and from it 
stem all the forms which are international: the car, aeroplane, telephone, 
machine, etc. The spreading of this conception amongst the people and its 
introduction to the channel of creative inventions will place it in world-wide 
unity. Economy in movement is the same for everyone, whilst, on the other 
hand, everyone has different aesthetic tastes, and therefore move towards not 
unity but division and separation; contemporary life leaves this by means of 
communism. 

It is necessary to consciously place creativity as the aim of life, as the 
perfection of oneself, and therefore current views on art must be changed: art 
is not a picture of pleasures, decoration, mood, experience or the conveyance 
of beautiful nature. This type of art no longer exists; nor do jesters, dancers 
and other miscellaneous theatrical grimacers (these monkeyish grimaces have 
also come to an end). There has appeared a silent, dynamic creation of new 
art's edifice in the red image of the world. [. . .] 



IIIc Abstraction and Form 295 

[...] How we must study and what we must stand on is an important 
question, for your deed depends upon the stand you take. What is comprehended 
is also realized; this takes place in my consciousness and passing through 
experimental action is fixed in real existence; hence I appear to be divided into 
two parts: on the one hand, the experimental consciousness of a laboratory model 
fact, and, on the other, the real, utilitarian, living action. Studios should 
naturally be divided in this way. This is the chief basis from which the different 
types of comprehension may stem. And so the new construction studios will 
pass from the artistic culture of aesthetic beauties to the action of natural 
investigation, losing all the quirks of imitative studios: a plan of unity is needed 
for all technical constructions. Every phenomenon of form is the result of our 
energic movement, directed along the path of economy, which results in this 
or that form of a thing. Each artistic trend is a form of this type, a striving to 
.convey by the briefest possible movement this or that state of a thing, as a 
question that has arisen externally. But all the trends, basing themselves on the 
taestheticism of art's beauty, have forgotten the important thing: the economy 
?of movement. It was only in Cubism that this basis began to come more clearly 
ito the fore, pouring itself out in the bright form of the Suprematist trend. New 
art is no longer organized under the flag of aesthetic taste, but is passing over 
to party organization. UNOVIS is now a party which has put economy as its 
obasis. Thus art becomes closely linked with the communism of humanity's 
rcconomic wellbeing. [. . .] 

> [. . .] Academism as art, as philosophical comprehension, and as a psycho- 
logical phenomenon is already a definite form which has closed the ring of the 
Ihorizon around imitative art. The new creation can no longer remain within 
.this horizon, any more than the economic, political, civil life of rights and liberty 
scan. 

fi The form of academism as representation, as agitation, as a means for 

^propaganda, is essentially temporary in the same way as grocers' shop signs are. 

^Literacy will do away with the representation of objects on signs, whereas the 

-expression of power sensations can only be made through the abstract forms of 

<the red moving against the white. Just as one cannot convey the power 

^movements of a machine by portraying a man, so, likewise, one cannot convey 

£he actual force of red, by portraying a worker in a red apron. At the essence 

\ *0f the new arts lies not representation but creative construction: raising ourselves 

&y means of constructions we achieve the highest natural development in all 

: Ihumanity. We are moving towards a world where everyone will create, rather 

#han repeating and mechanizing a form that an inventor has rejected. We must 

*»et creativity's path in such a way that all the masses will take part in the 

development of every creative thought that appears, without turning it into 

Mechanized production or cliche. [. . .] Humanity contains the idea of unity, 

^d this is its being; but it is so blocked up that it can only be reached with 

^'gFeat difficulty. Our contemporary communist principle leads to it, but thanks 

:j to the fact that the path is blocked by chaotic forms one cannot get through 

J except by war, although great achievements are to be made by the creative 

l^uilding of life's forms. If the masses were freed from the limitations of national 



296 Rationalization and Transformation 

and every other kind of patriotism and property which have been wound around 
their being by false leaders, the whole people would be fused into one and 
would naturally be drawn into general fusion, a unity of all forces in one form. 
As it is, it is destroyed by nationalism, and, preserving the latter, cannot be 
united as a result of which it produces a multitude of forms for its national, 
self-centered construction. 

The contemporary being of modern man strives for a unity that will break 
up the boundaries between national vegetable gardens, summoning all the nations 
to a single pole, that in unity they might create the image of all humanity. 
There is only one path to this unification and unity - the economic path. This 
is the carrot that man chases in order to complete the form of pure action. This 
is the path of the economic and political avant-garde which is preparing territory 
for the pure action of creative work. Here lies the supremacy of contemporaneity. 
Imitative art has always been dependent on the various peculiarities of nation- 
alism. It has developed in exact accordance with every phenomenon of economic, 
political, moral, religious, anecdotal, historical and everyday life; it has also had 
people waking up and shouting about the pure unity of pictorial action. But 
these people belonged not to imitative art but to creative construction, as a 
result of which many of them were banished by the state and ridiculed by 
society and the shameful critical press. They were subjected to cold and hunger, 
but their youthfulness kept them warm, and thanks to this they are still alive 
despite all these hardships. And thus we have lived to see a great revolution in 
imitative art. 1910 marked the conflagration, the clash between the revolutionary 
creative construction of Cubism and imitative art. 

This civil war between new and old art is still going on. The academism of 
art's arriere-garde has been waging a desperate struggle with the innovators by 
means of the press and the censorship, but the October Revolution, having 
smashed the foundations of the old state, has partly recognized the innovators 
in art also. The innovators have been recognized and even given a place in the 
arriere-garde 's college, but this is not enough to satisfy us: imitative art must 
be destroyed like the imperialist army. We innovators protest against a constit- 
uent assembly in art, for agreement is ridiculous when it means uniting two 
opposing trends which form some third monster - this is what constituent 
imitative art means. Today, as yesterday, engaged in ceaseless struggle we are 
moving towards a new path for art's innovators, which we shall make the method 
and system for establishing the utilitarian world of things, as a tender to the 
moving being. We shall make for creative work which will be not merely personal 
but belong to the united masses. Our imitative art studios represent a constituent 
assembly, for they accommodate all the trends and even some individual 
personalities not belonging to any of the trends - the apolitical. 

A strip of the new world has today been formed on Russian territory and the 
entire old world has arisen against it. The leaders of the economic-political 
armies are engaged in a struggle for rights and liberty. 

Just as in the old days the West, East and South oppressed us economically, 
so it was in art. Now we have an army, faithful towards a new principle in 




Hie Abstraction and Form 297 

economic life, and the vanguard of art. The economic life of the new world has 
produced the commune. The creative construction of the new art has produced 
the Suprematism of the square. [. . .] 

9 Naum Gabo (1890-1977) and Anton Pevsner 
(1886-1962) 'The Realistic Manifesto' 

The artists, who were brothers, had become familiar with avant-garde art in the west 
before the First World War, but by the time of the Revolution were back in Russia working 
at the Free Art Studios in Moscow. They issued their manifesto both as an affirmation 
of the value of formal 'constructive' aims in avant-garde art, and as a refusal of the 
more physical and ultimately utilitarian tendency which was beginning to be associated 
with Tatlin. Orginally issued as a poster in Moscow, 5 August 1920, to accompany the 
artists' joint open-air exhibition on Tverskoie Boulevard. The present translation, by Gabo 
himself, is taken from H. Read, Gabo, London, 1957. (The internal ellipses in this text 
are integral and do not indicate editorial excisions.) 

Above the tempests of our weekdays, 

Across the ashes and cindered homes of the past, 

Before the gates of the vacant future, 

We proclaim today to you artists, painters, sculptors, musicians, actors, poets 
... to you people to whom Art is no mere ground for conversation but the 
source of real exaltation, our word and deed. 

The impasse into which Art has come to in the last twenty years must be 
broken. 

The growth of human knowledge with its powerful penetration into the 
mysterious laws of the world which started at the dawn of this century, 

The blossoming of a new culture and a new civilization with their unpre- 
cedented-in-history surge of the masses towards the possession of the riches of 
Nature, a surge which binds the people into one union, and last, not least, the 
war and the revolution (those purifying torrents of the coming epoch), have 
made us face the fact of new forms of life, already born and active. 

What does Art carry into this unfolding epoch of human history? 

Does it possess the means necessary for the construction of the new Great 
Style? 

Or does it suppose that the new epoch may not have a new style? 

Or does it suppose that the new life can accept a new creation which is 
constructed on the foundations of the old? 

In spite of the demand of the renascent spirit of our time, Art is still nourished 
by impression, external appearance, and wanders helplessly back and forth from 
Naturalism to Symbolism, from Romanticism to Mysticism. 

The attempts of the Cubists and the Futurists to lift the visual arts from the 
bogs of the past have led only to new delusions. 
* * * 

Neither Futurism nor Cubism has brought us what our time has expected of 
them. 



298 Rationalization and Transformation 

Besides those two artistic schools our recent past has had nothing of import- 
ance or deserving attention. 

But Life does not wait and the growth of generations does not stop and we 
who go to relieve those who have passed into history, having in our hands the 
results of their experiments, with their mistakes and their achievements, after 
years of experience equal to centuries . . . we say . . . 

No new artistic system will withstand the pressure of a growing new culture 
until the very foundation of Art will be erected on the real laws of Life. 

Until all artists will say with us . . . 

All is a fiction . . . only life and its laws are authentic and in life only the 
active is beautiful and wise and strong and right, for life does not know beauty 
as an aesthetic measure . . . efficacious existence is the highest beauty. 

Life knows neither good nor bad nor justice as a measure of morals . . . need 
is the highest and most just of all morals. 

Life does not know rationally abstracted truths as a measure of cognizance, 
deed is the highest and surest of truths. 

Those are the laws of life. Can art withstand these laws if it is built on 
abstraction, on mirage, and fiction? 

We say . . . 

Space and time are re-born to us today. 

Space and time are the only forms on which life is built and hence art must 
be constructed. 

States, political and economic systems perish, ideas crumble, under the strain 
of ages ... but life is strong and grows and time goes on in its real continuity. 

Who will show us forms more efficacious than this . . . who is the great one 
who will give us foundations stronger than this? 

Who is the genius who will tell us a legend more ravishing than this prosaic 
tale which is called life? 

The realization of our perceptions of the world in the forms of space and time is 
the only aim of our pictorial and plastic art. 

In them we do not measure our works with the yardstick of beauty, we do not 
weigh them with pounds of tenderness and sentiments. 

The plumb-line in our hand, eyes as precise as a ruler, in a spirit as taut as a 
compass . . . we construct our work as the universe constructs its own, as the engineer 
constructs his bridges, as the mathematician his formula of the orbits. 

We know that everything has its own essential image; chair, table, lamp, telephone, 
book, house, man . . . they are all entire worlds with their own rhythms, their own 
orbits. 

That is why we in creating things take away from them the labels of their owners 
. . . all accidental and local, leaving only the reality of the constant rhythm of the 
forces in them. 

1. Thence in painting we renounce colour as a pictorial element, colour is the 
idealized optical surface of objects; an exterior and superficial impression of them; 
colour is accidental and it has nothing in common with the innermost essence of a 
thing. 



■f 



Illc Abstraction and Form 299 

, We affirm that the tone of a substance, i.e. its light-absorbing material body is 
$ts only pictorial reality. 

2. We renounce in a line, its descriptive value; in real life there are no descriptive 
fanes, description is an accidental trace of a man on things, it is not bound up with 
tfie essential life and constant structure of the body. Descriptiveness is an element of 
graphic illustration and decoration. 

v We affirm the line only as a direction of the static forces and their rhythm in 
Ejects. 

3. We renounce volume as a pictorial and plastic form of space; one cannot measure 
Space in volumes as one cannot measure liquid in yards: look at our space . . . what 
Is it if not one continuous depth? 

'i We affirm depth as the only pictorial and plastic form of space. 

4. We renounce in sculpture, the mass as a sculptural element. 

IrJt is known to every engineer that the static forces of a solid body and its material 
strength do not depend on the quantity of the mass. . . example a rail, a T-beam, 

toe. 

.But you sculptors of all shades and directions, you still adhere to the age-old 
prejudice that you cannot free the volume of mass. Here (in this exhibition) we take 
four planes and we construct with them the same volume as of four tons of mass. 

Thus we bring back to sculpture the line as a direction and in it we affirm depth 
as the one form of space. 

5. We renounce the thousand-year-old delusion in art that held the static rhythms 
as the only elements of the plastic and pictorial arts. 

, We affirm in these arts a new element the kinetic rhythms as the basic forms of 
our perception of real time. 

These are the five fundamental principles of our work and our constructive 
technique. [. . .] 






10 UNOVIS: 'Programme of a United Audience in 
Painting of the Vitebsk State Free Workshops' 

Malevich began teaching in Vitebsk in 1919, shortly ousting the incumbent Chagall and 
introducing his own course based on Suprematism. The same year, or in 1920, inspired 
partly no doubt by the contemporary fashion for collectivity, he organized UNOVIS, the 
tJnion of the New Art' or the 'Affirmers of the New Art'. This included, inter alia, Lissitsky, 
Puni, Klucis, Ermolaeva, Suetin and Chasnik. Members of the group travelled with 
Malevich to Petrograd in 1922 where the name continued to be used to designate the 
products of Malevich and his circle until at least the late 1920s. The present text outlines 
the educational programme organized under the auspices of UNOVIS in the Academy 
at Vitebsk in 1920. The present translation is from Zhadova, op. cit. 

[• . .] Those studying in the art workshops in Vitebsk have mustered with the 
leaders of the UNOVIS collective as a united audience for problems of painting 
Without shutting themselves off from problems of architecture the philosophy 
°f the new art the theatre etc. The work of UNOVIS proceeds multilaterally: 



300 Rationalization and Transformation 

painting is in the course, decorative art, the applied modelling of useful objects 
and sculpture. A special week is appointed for each problem. It has proved 
possible to unite five workshops except for the academic workshop. When the 
need to devise a method for the workshops has been understood we will be able 
to create a new utilitarian world of objects and direct the rest of the overall 
conception of the existing art trends to the actual life of that which is new. 
The atomization of shuttered personalities within workshops is not in accordance 
with the times and is counter-revolutionary in terms of general direction. These 
also are landlords and owners of their personal programmes and systems which 
were set aside by the new economic system for the sake of the common good. 
The new economic trend in art must take this new road and enlist the individual 
in the united programme of action at school and in life. Creating thereby a 
method for the new trends in art we shall achieve a definite programme 
corresponding to or fulfilling the movement of present times. Every step forward 
in economic life comes about because a new form of life is structured in the 
depths of the new awareness. New arts create a method and it is this method 
that we apply in UNOVIS and it has yielded positive results. In devising the 
programme we are also mindful of educational guidance as a contribution to the 
creation of a modern system of teaching. 

Basic themes: 

1 general orientation of the workshop - Cubism, Futurism and Suprematism 
as the new colour pictorial world formulation. Basic trends take shape as the 
themes of all other tendencies develop. 

2 systematization, articulation of structures in painting, balance of formal 
structures in painting, paint and painting, material. 

Section 1 

Group 1 Abstraction of objects. Knowledge of pictorial and sculptural form, 
volume, plane, as an introduction to Cubism. Painting - colour. Painting - 
materials. Elements of structuring. Acquaintance with system and construction 
of structure on canvas and in space. 

Section 2 

Group 2 Cubism. 

1 Cezanne and his pictorial outlook as executed in pictorial images. 

2 Theory of Cubism and system of form construction by means of pictorial 
texture and materials. 

3 Space and the form of the Cubist distribution of elements. 

4 Construction of nature, displacement of construction and elaboration of a 
new Cubist one. 

5 Ordering of elements in purely pictorial form. 

6 Cubism and nature. Static and mobile state. 

Section 3 

Group 1 

1 Futurism as a theory of velocity. 




nic Abstraction and Form 301 

2 Van Gogh as an exponent of dynamics, the realization of his outlook. 

3 Futurism and nature, town and village as objects affecting the structure of 
an instant's velocity. 

4 Theory of Futurism. 

5 Construction of the velocity of objects. The academic approach. 

Section 4 

1 Pure dynamics of colour. System of construction. Economy. Decoration. 

Ornament. Theatre. 
% Uncoloured Suprematist motion. 

3 Theory of movement of colour energy. 

4 Architecture. Three-dimensional Suprematism of the structure. 

5 The square - its economical development. 

6 The philosophy of Suprematism. Science - the refutation of science. The 
inner development of natural science constructions. 

7 Personality and unity. The collective as a way to unity. 

Decorative workshops 

1 Theatre. 

2 Dynamism. 

3 Statics. 

4 The making of objects, their form. 

5 Wall painting and the plane. Decorative composition 



11 Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) 'Plan for the 

Physico-psychological Department of the Russian 
Academy of Artistic Sciences' 

Kandinsky had returned from Germany to Russia after the outbreak of the First World 
War. After the Revolution he briefly became a leading figure in the reorganization of art 
education. However, his mystical inclinations and his continued insistence on intuition 
and subjectivity resulted in hostility to his proposals. He left again for Western Europe 
and took up an appointment at the Bauhaus in 1922. The present text of a plan for the 
Academy of Artistic Sciences, submitted in June 1921, is an abbreviation of the much 
longer 'Programme' which he developed for the Institute of Artistic Culture (Inkhuk) in 
Moscow in 1920. It was the rejection of this latter which led him to reformulate his 
proposal for the Academy; the rejection of that in turn which led him to emigrate. The 
'Plan' was originally published in the Journal of the Russian Academy of Artistic Science, 
no. 1, Moscow, Summer 1923, pp. 415-16. The present translation is taken from John 
Bowlt, Russian Art of the Avant Garde, London, 1976 and 1988. 

The department sets as its task to disclose the inner, positive laws on the basis 
of which aesthetic works are formed within every sphere of art and, in 
connection with the results obtained, to establish the principles of synthetic 
artistic expression. This task can be reduced to a number of concrete objectives: 



302 Rationalization and Transformation 

(1) the study of artistic elements as the material from which a work of art is 
formed, (2) the study of construction in creation as a principle whereby the 
artistic purpose is embodied, (3) the study of composition in art as a principle 
whereby the idea of a work of art is constructed. 

The work of the department must be carried out in two directions: (a) a series 
of lectures based on the established program and (b) experimental research. We 
have not managed to pursue this experimental research owing to a lack of funds 
essential for the organization of laboratories. 

The series of lectures 'Elements of Art' has been given, and now certain of 
their materials, observations, and ideas are being processed. The series of 
lectures on construction in nature, art, and technology is being developed. The 
series 'Composition' is being prepared. 

In accordance with these aims and tasks, the department's scientific plan for 
1922-3 consists of the following: 

I The completion of a session of preliminary research work concerning the 
problem of construction in art. To this end, the following lectures on the 
problem of construction should be given at plenary meetings: (a) construction 
in extraaesthetic creation (utilitarian-productional construction), (b) architecture, 
(c) sculpture, (d) painting, (e) printing industry, (f) music, (g) plastic rhythm, 
(h) literature, (i) theater, (j) productional art. 

II Research into primitive art and into all the aesthetic concepts that give 
primitive art its style. In this respect a number of specific tasks have been 
formulated: (1) Research into the laws of the statics and dynamics of primitive 
art: (a) in an individual or typical/group context; (b) in the evolution of one 
form from another. (2) Methods: (a) a formal, positive, art historians' approach, 
inasmuch as the research is connected with the formal and descriptive study of 
art objects; (b) a psychological approach, inasmuch as the research will concern 
the psychology of artistic creation and perception. (3) Materials: children's art, 
the art of primitive and backward peoples, primordial art, the primitives of early 
Christian and medieval art; primitivism in modern art; aesthetic concepts that 
characterize primitive art found, for the most part, in the art of the ancient 
East. (4) The materials can be developed with regard to (a) specific branches 
of art and (b) artistic groupings organically interconnected, and (c) they can be 
directed toward a synthetic summary of general inferences. 

The research plan concerning the problem of primitive art and the aesthetic 
concepts that give art its style in the sphere of the spatial (visual) arts and 
vis-a-vis the material mentioned and outlined above can be defined thus: (1) 
Art that develops a plane or surface (so-called painting): (a) color, (b) line, (c) 
spatial expression, (d) material, (e) means of processing the surface, (f) laws of 
construction, (g) concept. (2) Art that organizes volumes (so-called sculpture): 
(a) material, (b) mass, (c) volume, (d) chiaroscuro, (e) color, (f) line, (g) surface, 
(h) laws of construction, (i) concept. (3) Art that organizes actual three-dimen- 
sional space (so-called architecture): (a) architectural mass, (b) space, (c) light 
and shade, (d) line, (e) surface, (f) color, (g) construction, (h) concept. (4) Types 
and phases of development of the general artistic concept in primitive art, their 




Illc Abstraction and Form 303 

positive and aesthetic bases. (5) The psychology of aesthetic expression and 
perception (within the framework of primitive art). 



12 El Lissitsky (1890-1947) 'A. and Pangeometry' 

Lissitsky was strongly affected by Malevich's Suprematism while working at Vitebsk in 
1919. He in particular was responsible for the development of Suprematism as a 
graphic - and hence reproducible - means of building support for the Revolution. In 
the early and mid-1 920s he was influential in establishing contacts between Russian 
revolutionary art and those with similar concerns in Western Europe. The present essay 
(in which Lissitsky employs two abbreviations: A. = Art; F. = Form) was originally 
published in German in Carl Einstein and Paul Westheim (eds.), Europa Almanach, 
Potsdam, 1925. The present translation by Eric Dluhosch is taken from El Lissitsky, 
Russia: an Architecture for World Revolution, London, 1970. 

[. . .] The term A. resembles a chemist's graduated glass. Each age contributes 
its own quantity: for example, 5 drams of the perfume 'Coty' to tickle the 
nostrils of the fine gentry. Or another example, 10 cc of sulfuric acid to be 
thrown into the face of the ruling classes. Or, 15 cc of some kind of metallic 
solution that later changes into a new source of light. Thus, A. is an invention 
of the mind, i.e., a complex, where rationality is f used with imagination, the 
physical with the mathematical, the VT with V- 1. The series of analogies I 
shall present below are not offered as proof - my work serves that purpose 
much better - but in order to clarify my views. Parallels between A. and 
mathematics must be drawn very carefully, for any overlap is fatal for A. 

Planimetric Space 

Plastic F. - like mathematics - begins with counting. Its space is made up of 
physical, two-dimensional, flat surfaces. Its rhythm, the elementary harmony of 
the natural numerical series 1, 2, 3, 4 . . . 

The newly created object . . . let's say a relief, is compared with real objects 
in nature. For example, if the relief shows the front part of an animal hiding 
part of another animal behind, this then does not mean that the latter, the 
hidden part, has ceased to exist; it simply means that a certain distance exists 
between the two objects - a space. As a consequence, through experience the 
knowledge is gained that distance exists between objects and that objects exist 
in space. 

Thus, the two-dimensional plane ceases to be merely a surface. The plane 
begins to include space, and the mathematical series 1, Wi, 2, 2Vi ... is created. 

Perspective Space 

The simple flat surface perceived by the eye stretches and extends into vivid 
space, evolving into a new system. The perspective mode finds its expression 



304 Rationalization and Transformation 

within this system. It is commonly assumed that perspective representation of 
space is objective, unequivocal, and obvious. People say, 'The camera too sees 
the world in terms of perspective/ but this ignores the fact that, contrary to 
common practice in the West, the Chinese have built a camera with concave 
rather than convex lenses, thereby producing an equally objective image of the 
world in the mechanical sense, but obviously quite different in all other respects. 
Perspective representation of space is based on a rigid three-dimensional view 
of the world based on the laws of Euclidean geometry. The world is put into 
a cubic box and transformed within the picture plane into something resembling 
a pyramidal form. [. . .] Here, the apex of the visual cone has its location either 
in our eye, i.e., in front of the object, or is projected to the horizon, i.e., behind 
the object. The former approach has been taken by the East, the latter by the 
West. 

Perspective limits space; it has made it finite, closed. However, despite all of 
this, the 'sum total' (here 'sum total' means the aggregate of all possible numbers 
that may be geometrically expressed by a straight line - 'the fixed line') of A. 
has been enriched in the sense that each point, even one infinitely close, can 
be represented by a number. Planimetric space has produced the arithmetic 
series. In it, objects are perceived according to the relationship 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. . . . 
Perspective space resembles a geometric series, and objects are perceived 
according to the relationship 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32. . . . Until our time the 'sum 
total' of A. has not experienced any new extensions. However, a fundamental 
reorientation has taken place in science. The geocentric cosmic order of Ptolemy 
has been replaced by the heliocentric order of Copernicus. Rigid Euclidean space 
has been destroyed by Lobachevski, Gauss, and Riemann. The impressionists 
were the first artists who began to explode traditional perspective space. The 
methods of the cubists were even more radical. They pulled the space-confining 
horizon into the foreground and identified it with the surface of the painting. 
They built up the solid surface of the canvas by means of psychological devices 
(pasted-on wall tapestries, etc.) and by elementary destruction of form. They 
built from the plane of the picture forward into space. The ultimate results of 
this process: Picasso's reliefs and the contrereliefs of Tatlin. [. . .] 

The establishment of the □ by K. Malevich (Petersburg 1913) was the first 
manifestation of the extension of the 'sum total' of A. (Mondrian accomplished 
the ultimate solution in the development of Western painting. He reduces 
surface to its primeval state, namely surface only, in the sense that there is no 
longer any spatial in or out of a given surface. Whenever Mondrian's principle 
is transposed by fashionable A.'s onto the three surfaces of a room, it turns into 
decoration.) 

Our numerical system, being a positional system, has been making use of 
for a long time, but only in the sixteenth century did first cease to be regarded 
as 'nothing,' and become a numeral (Cordano, Tartaglia), i.e., a real number. 
And only now, in the twentieth century, has the D been recognized as a 
plastic quantity, i.e., the of the total body of A. This fully chromatic, 
fully color-saturated Don a white surface has begotten a new conception of 
space. 





nic Abstraction and Form 305 

New optical experience has taught us that two surfaces of different intensity 
must be conceived as having a varying distance relationship between them, even 
though they may lie in the same plane. 

Irrational Space 

Strictly speaking, distances in this space are measured only by the intensity and 
the position of rigidly defined color planes. Such space is structured within a 
framework of the most unequivocal directions: vertically, horizontally, or diag- 
onally. It is a positional system. These distances cannot be measured with a 
finite scale, as for instance objects in planimetric or perspective space. Here 
distances are irrational and cannot be represented as a finite relationship of two 
whole numbers. 

An example of such irrationality is the relationship of the diagonal of a square 
to its side, i.e., =^2~ 1.4, or more precisely, 1.41, or still more precisely, 
1.414, etc., becoming increasingly more accurate, ad infinitum. 

Suprematism has extended the apex of the finite visual cone of perspective 
into infinity. 

It has broken through the 'blue lampshade of the heavens.' The color of space 
is no longer assumed to be a single blue ray of the color spectrum, but the 
whole spectrum - white. Suprematist space can be formed in front of the surface 
as well as in depth. If one assigns the value to the picture surface, then one 
may call the depth direction - (negative), and the frontal direction + (positive), 
or vice versa. Thus, suprematism has swept away the illusion of three-dimen- 
sional space on a plane, replacing it by the ultimate illusion of irrational space 
with attributes of infinite extensibility in depth and foreground. 

This brings us to an A. complex that can be brought into juxtaposition with 
the mathematical analogy of an uninterrupted straight line, containing the whole 
natural numerical series which embraces: whole, decimal, negative, positive, and 
irrational numbers, including 0. 

-However, that is not all. Mathematics has created a 'new thing': imaginary 
(imaginary - not real, assumed) numbers. These include numbers which, when 
multiplied by themselves, result in negative valu es. The square root of the 
negative of 1 is an imaginary thing called i (V- 1 = i). We now enter a realm 
that cannot be directly registered by the senses, that cannot be demonstrated, 
that follows from a purely logical construction and therefore represents an 
elementary crystallization of human thought. What does this have to do with 
sense perception, or simple vividness in A.? In their vital quest for the 
enlargement of F. in A., a number of modern artists - including some of my 
friends - believe that they can build up multidimensional real spaces that may 
fee entered without an umbrella, where space and time have been combined into 
a mutually interchangeable single whole. Concurrently with this, they relate 
their theories with an altogether much too agile superficiality to the most 
advanced scientific theories, without having a genuinely deep understanding of 
&ese theories (viz., multidimensional space, theory of relativity, Minkowski's 
universe, etc.). Now the productive artist should certainly be allowed to expound 



306 Rationalization and Transformation 

any theory he wishes, provided his work remains positive. In our field, only 
the direction of expansion has been positive up to now, but because of incorrect 
interpretations of seductive scientific theories the works themselves remain 
inadequate. [. . .] mathematically existing multidimensional spaces really cannot 
be visualized, neither can they be represented; in short, it is impossible to give 
them material form. We can only change the form of our physical space but 
not its structure, i.e., its three-dimensionality. We cannot change the degree of 
curvature of our space in a real way, i.e., the square or the cube cannot be 
transformed into any other stable form. Only a mirage may be capable of giving 
us such an illusion. The theory of relativity has provided evidence that quantities 
of time and space are dependent on the motion of each respective system. 
According to this theory, a man may die even before he was born. However, 
insofar as actual pragmatic sense-experience teaches us, things move the other 
way, forcing us to follow our own physical laws and building up A. F.'s which 
must needs affect us through the medium of our five physical senses. 
* * * 

Time is only indirectly comprehended by our senses. The change of position 
of an object in space indicates the passage of time. When the speed of these 
changes approached the accelerated rate of our modern rhythms, artists thought 
it necessary to register these phenomena. The Italian futurists have caught the 
vibrations of quickly moving bodies flitting back and forth in space. However, 
bodies are brought into motion by means of forces. Suprematism created the 
dynamic tension of forces. The accomplishment of the futurists and the supre- 
matists is represented by static surfaces characterized by dynamism. These are 
irrationally transposed and concretized oscillograms of speed and dynamism. 
Such an approach is quite unsatisfactory. [. . .] 

We are now at the beginning of a period in which A. is, on the one hand, 
degenerating into making pasticci of museum monuments, while, on the other 
hand, struggling for the creation of a new conception of space. I have demon- 
strated above that space and objects form a mutually functional relationship. 
This creates the problem of creating imaginary space by means of material 
objects. 



Imaginary Space 

Our capacity for visual perception is limited in the apprehension of motion and 
of the total condition of an object in general: for example, a recurring motion 
having a frequency of less than V30 sec. gives the impression of constant motion. 
The motion picture is based on this principle. [...] However, the cinema 
depends on dematerialized surface projection using merely a single facet of our 
visual faculties. Of course it is well known that a material point in motion is 
capable of forming a line; for example: a glowing piece of coal in motion gives 
the impression of a luminous line, while the motion of a material line gives the 
impression of a surface or a volume. That is only one indication of how 
elementary solids can be used to construct an object that forms a whole in 
three-dimensional space while in a state of rest; yet when brought into motion 



Illc Abstraction and Form 307 

it becomes an entirely new object, i.e., a new space impression that will exist 
only during the duration of the motion, and is therefore imaginary. [. . .] 

The infinitely variegated effects that may be achieved by the F. of imaginary 
space can already be sensed to a limited extent even today. The whole range 
of all of our visual capacities may thus be brought into play. To name a few: 
stereoscopic effects of motion by passage through colored media; color impress- 
ions produced by superimposition of chromatic clusters of light rays as the result 
of polarization, etc.; the transformation of acoustic phenomena into visual form. 
We can safely predict that everyday life will borrow widely from these A. 
achievements. However, as far as we are concerned, the most important aspect 
of this development is the fact that this A.-F. will be accompanied by the 
destruction of the old A. notion of monumentality. Even today the opinion still 
prevails that A. must be something created for eternity: indestructible, heavy, 
massive, carved in granite or cast in bronze - the Cheops Pyramid, The Eiffel 
Tower is not monumental, for it was not built for eternity but as an attraction 
for a world fair; no solid masses, but a pierced space needle. We are now 
producing work which in its overall effect is essentially intangible. For we do 
not consider a work monumental in the sense that it may last for a year, a 
century, or a millennium, but rather on the basis of continual expansion of 
human performance. 

In the preceding I have traced the variability of our space conceptions and 
the subsequent F.'s of A., thus arriving at nonmaterial materialism. This sounds 
like a paradox. However, experience proves that progress consists of our being 
compelled to accept and, indeed, to regard as self-evident and essential, views that 
our forefathers considered incomprehensible and were in fact incapable of compre- 
hending. 




HID 

Utility and Construction 



1 KOMFUT: 'Programme Declaration' 

In a transitional phase between their pre-revolutionary and hence relatively a-political 
art, and the post-revolutionary turn to utilitarian constructivism, Russian avant-garde 
artists organized KOMFUT: an acronym for Communism and Futurism. The title was also 
intended to differentiate Russian avant-garde artists, conventionally dubbed 'Futurists', 
from the Italian group, who were being increasingly identified with Fascism. The 'Dec- 
laration' was originally published in iskusstvo kommuny (Art of the Commune), no. 8, 
Petrograd, 26 January 1919, p. 3. The present translation is taken from Bowlt, op. cit. 

A Communist regime demands a Communist consciousness. All forms of life, 
morality, philosophy, and art must be re-created according to Communist 
principles. Without this, the subsequent development of the Communist Rev- 
olution is impossible. 

In their activities the cultural-educational organs of the Soviet government 
show a complete misunderstanding of the revolutionary task entrusted to them. 
The social-democratic ideology so hastily knocked together is incapable of 
resisting the century-old experience of the bourgeois ideologists, who, in their 
own interests, are exploiting the proletarian cultural-educational organs. 

Under the guise of immutable truths, the masses are being presented with 
the pseudo teachings of the gentry. 

Under the guise of universal truth - the morality of the exploiters. 

Under the guise of the eternal laws of beauty - the depraved taste of the 
oppressors. 

It is essential to start creating our own Communist ideology. 

It is essential to wage merciless war against all the false ideologies of the 
bourgeois past. 

It is essential to subordinate the Soviet cultural-educational organs to the 
guidance of a new cultural Communist ideology - an ideology that is only now 
being formulated. 

It is essential - in all cultural fields, as well as in art - to reject emphatically 
all the democratic illusions that pervade the vestiges and prejudices of the 
bourgeoisie. 

It is essential to summon the masses to creative activity. 




HId Utility and Construction 309 

2 Vladimir Tallin (1885-1953) 'The Initiative 
Individual in the Creativity of the Collective' 

Tatlin passed through a variety of avant-garde styles, from primitivism to Cubism, in 
the years before the First World War. From about 1915 onwards he became increasingly 
identified as the leader of a trend in the Russian avant-garde opposed to Malevich's 
Suprematism. This emphasized 'the culture of materials', and formed the basis of the 
move to utilitarian constructivism and 'art into production' after the Revolution. Tatlin 
frequently wrote in the condensed epigrammatic style of contemporary political slogans 
(e.g.: 'Organized material is a utilitarian form' (1922); 'Not to the left, not to the right, 
but to the necessary. Not the old, not the new, but the necessary' (1923)). The present 
comparatively extended text was composed in 1919 for the first issue of the journal 
International Iskusstv (International Art). It remained unpublished. The present translation 
is taken from Larissa Zhadova (ed.), Tatlin, London, 1988. 



Theses 

1 The initiative individual is the collector of the energy of the collective, 
directed towards knowledge and invention. 

2 The initiative individual serves as a contact between the invention and the 
creativity of the collective. 

3 The viability of the collective is confirmed by the number of initiative units 
distinguished by it. 

4 The initiative individual is the refraction point of the collective's creativity 
and brings realization to the idea. 

5 Art, always being connected with life at the moment of change in the political 
system (change of the Collective-consumer), and being cut off from the 
collective in the person of the artist, goes through an acute revolution. A 
revolution strengthens the impulse of invention. That is why there is a 
flourishing of art following a revolution, when the inter-relationship between 
the initiative individual and the collective is clearly defined, 

6 Invention is always the working out of impulses and desires of the collective 
and not of the individual. 

7 The world of numbers, as the nearest to the architectonics of art, gives us: 
1) confirmation of the existence of the inventor; 2) a complete organic 
connection of the individual with the collective numeral. There is no error 
in Khlebnikov's example. 1) 'In a series of natural numbers, prime numbers, 
indivisible and non-recurring, are scattered. Each of these numbers carries 
with it its new numerical world. From this it follows that among numbers 
too there are inventors. ' 2) 'If we take the principle of addition, and add 
one more to a thousand individuals, the arrival and departure of this 
individual will be unnoticed. If we take the principle of multiplication, then 
a positive singular multiplied by a thousand makes the entire thousand 
positive. A negative singular multiplied by a thousand makes the whole 
thousand negative. From this it follows that there exists a complete organic 
connection between the individual and the collective numeral. ' 



310 Rationalization and Transformation 

3 Lyubov Popova (1889-1924) Statement in 
catalogue of Tenth State Exhibition' 

Popova was one of a notable generation of women artists in the Russian avant-garde 
in the years immediately preceding and succeeding the Revolution of 1917. She had 
become familiar with Cubism in Paris before the First World War. Her statement seems 
to distinguish autonomous work on painting from the problems of depicting a world 
outside art; though such apparently 'autonomous' art became increasingly dubbed 
laboratory research' in order to validate it in terms of the general need to participate 
in building the new, post-revolutionary life. The 'Statement' was originally published in 
the catalogue to the Tenth State Exhibition: Non-objective Creation and SuprematisnY, 
Moscow, April 1919. The present translation is taken from Bowlt, op. cit. 



( + ) 
Painting 

I. Architectonics 

(a) Painterly space 
(cubism) 

(b) Line 

(c) Color (suprematism) 

(d) Energetics 
(futurism) 
Texture 



(-) 
Not painting but 
the depiction of reality 



I. Aconstructiveness 
(a) Illusionism 
(b) Literariness 
(c) Emotions 
(d) Recognition 



(e) 

II. The necessity for 
transformation by 
means of the 
omission of 
parts of 
form 

(began in 
cubism) 

Construction in painting = the sum of the energy of its parts. 

Surface is fixed but forms are volumetrical. 

Line as color and as the vestige of a transverse plane participates in, and directs 

the forces of, construction. 

Color participates in energetics by its weight. 

Energetics = direction of volumes + planes and lines or their vestiges + all 

colors. 

Texture is the content of painterly surfaces. 



IIId Utility and Construction 31 1 

Form is not of equal value throughout its whole sequence. The artistic con*, 
sciousness must select those elements indispensable to a painterly context, in 
which case all that is superfluous and of no artistic value must be omitted. 

Hence depiction of the concrete - artistically neither deformed nor transformed 
i- cannot be a subject of painting. 

Images of 'painterly/ and not 'figurative,' values are the aim of the present 
painting. 



4 Nikolai Punin (1888-1953) The Monument to the 
Third International' 

The author was an art historian and critic who was active after the Russian revolution 
in the Fine Art department (1Z0) of the Commissariat of Enlightenment (Narkompros) in 
Petrograd. Through his work on Lenin's plan for 'Monumental Propaganda' he became 
involved with Tatlin's projected 'Monument to the Third International', the organization 
which the Bolsheviks had set up to coordinate the international socialist revolution. The 
essay was originally published as a pamphlet by IZO - Narkompros, Petrograd, 1920. 
The present translation was made by Christina Lodder for the Open University, 1983. 

In 1919 the Department of Fine Arts within the People's Commissariat for 
Enlightenment commissioned the artist V. E. Tatlin to develop a design for a 
monument to the Third International. The artist Tatlin immediately set to work 
and produced a design. The artists V. E. Tatlin, I. A. Meerzon, M. P. 
Vinogradov and T. M. Shapiro formed a 'Creative Collective', then developed 
the design in detail and constructed a model. 

The main idea of the monument is based on an organic synthesis of the 
principles of architecture, sculpture and painting and was intended to produce 
a new type of monumental structure, uniting in itself a purely creative form 
with a utilitarian form. In accordance with this idea, the design of the monument 
consists of three large glass structures, erected by means of a complex system 
of vertical struts and spirals. These structures are arranged one above the other 
and are contained within different, harmoniously related forms. A special type 
of mechanism would enable them to move at different speeds. The lower 
structure (A), in the form of a cube, moves on its axis at the speed of one 
revolution a year and is intended for legislative purposes. Here may be held 
conferences of the International, meetings of international congresses and other 
broadly legislative meetings. . . . The next structure (B), in the form of a 
Pyramid, rotates on its axis at the speed of one full revolution a month and is 
intended for executive functions (the Executive Committee of the International, 
the secretariat and other administrative and executive bodies). Finally, the upper 
cylinder (C), rotating at a speed of one revolution a day, is intended to be a 
resource centre for the following facilities: an information office; a newspaper; 
tr *e publication of proclamations, brochures and manifestoes - in a word, all 
the various means of broadly informing the international proletariat, and in 



312 Rationalization and Transformation 

particular a telegraph, projectors for a large screen located on the axes of a 
spherical segment (a, - B 3 ), and a radio station, the masts of which rise above 
the monument. There is no need to point out the enormous possibilities for 
equipping and organizing these structures. The details of the design have not 
yet been specified, they can be discussed and worked out during subsequent 
elaboration of the monument's interior. It is necessary to explain that according 
to the artist Tatlin's conception, the glass structures should have vacuum walls 
(a thermos) which will make it easy to maintain a constant temperature within 
the edifice. The separate parts of the monument will be connected to one another 
and to the ground by means exclusively of complexly structured electrical 
elevators, adjusted to the differing rotation speeds of the structures. Such are 
the technical bases of the project. 

The artistic significance of the project 

A social revolution by itself does not change artistic forms, but it does provide 
a basis for their gradual transformation. The idea of monumental propaganda 
has not changed sculpture or sculptors, but it has struck at the very principle 
of plastic appearance which prevails in the bourgeois world. Renaissance tradi- 
tions in the plastic arts appear modern only while the feudal and bourgeois roots 
of capitalist states remain undestroyed. The Renaissance burned out, but only 
now is the charred ruin of Europe being purged. 

It is true that Communist governments for a certain time will use, as a means 
of monumental propaganda, figurative monuments in the style of Greek and 
Italian classicism, but this is only because these governments are forced to use 
them in the same way as they are compelled to use specialists of the pre- 
revolutionary school. Figurative monuments (Greek and Italian) are at variance 
with contemporary reality in two respects. They cultivate individual heroism 
and conflict with history: torsos and heads of heroes (and gods) do not 
correspond to the modern interpretation of history. Their forms are too private 
for places where there are ten versts of proletarians in rows. At best they express 
the character, feelings and thoughts of the hero, but who expresses the tension 
of the emotions and the thoughts of the collective thousand? A type? But a type 
concretizes, limits and levels the mass. The mass is richer, more alive, more 
complicated and more organic. 

But even if a type is portrayed, figurative monuments contradict actuality 
even more through the limitation of their expressive means, their static quality. 
The agitational action of such monuments is extraordinarily weak amidst the 
noise, movement and dimensions of the streets. Thinkers on granite plinths 
perhaps see many, but few see them. They are constrained by the form which 
evolved when sailing ships, transport by mule and stone cannon balls flourished. 
A wartime telephone wire hits the hero's nose, a tram stop is more of an obelisk; 
townspeople recall Lassalle more times each day through book covers and 
newspaper headlines in libraries, than through passing by, beneath his proud 
head. Lassalle stands unseen and unneeded ever since the end of the unveiling 
ceremony. . . . 




HID Utility and Construction 313 

A monument must live the social and political life of the city and the city 
must live in it. It must be necessary and dynamic, then it will be modern. The 
forms of contemporary, agitational plastic arts lie beyond the depiction of man 
as an individual. They are found by the artist who is not crippled by the feudal 
and bourgeois traditions of the Renaissance, but who has laboured like a worker 
on the three unities of contemporary plastic consciousness: material, construc- 
tion, volume. Working on material, construction and volume, Tatlin has pro- 
duced a form which is new in the world of monumental creation. Such a form 
is the monument to the Third International. 

The best artist in the Russia of the Workers and Peasants (his life proving 
his knowledge of the working masses), was commissioned a year ago to develop 
a design for a monument to the Third International. The project which has 
been designed is not only completely remarkable as a manifestation of contem- 
porary artistic life, but it can also be interpreted as a profound break in the 
deadening circle of the over-ripe and decadent art of our time. Art is embracing 
the twentieth century, delineating areas of development in all aspects of creative 
activity. Regarding myself, to some extent, competent in artistic matters, I 
o>nsider that this project is an international event in the art world. 

One of the most complex cultural problems is solved before our very eyes: a 
utilitarian form appears as a purely creative form. Once again a new classicism 
becomes possible, not as a renaissance but as an invention. The theorists of the 
international workers' movement have long sought a classical content for socialist 
culture. Here it is. We maintain that the present project is the first revolutionary 
artistic work, and one which we can send to Europe. 

Form in the project is placed along two axes (aai and bb 3 ), which are in a 
constant state of conflict. The line a to ai develops into a movement upwards 
which is broken at each point by the movement of the spirals from b, bi, b 2 , 
b h to the line aa^ The collision of these two movements (by their very nature 
mutually contradictory) must produce a break - such as characterized 'cubism' 
<k>ng since left behind), and entail the destruction of the utilitarian idea. But 
the converging spirals, adopting the movement of aai (and bb 3 ), carry these lines 
above and beyond the movement of the main support (girder aaO to the same 
point, producing a dynamic image, imbued with the powerful tension of 
endlessly disturbed and clashing axes. The whole form oscillates like a steel 
snake, constrained and organized by the one general movement of all the parts, 
to raise itself above the earth. The form wants to overcome the material and 
the force of gravity, the strength of the resistance is enormous and massive: 
straining every muscle, the form finds an outlet through the most elastic and 
rapid lines which the world knows, through spirals. They are full of movement, 
aspiration, and speed: they are taut like the creative will and like a muscle tensed 
*ith a hammer. 

The application of the spiral and its organization into a modern form is, by 
itself, an enrichment of the composition. In the same way as the equilibrium 
*f the parts in a triangle makes it the best expression of the Renaissance, so 
*he best expression of our spirit is the spiral. The interaction of weight and 
support is the most pure (classical) form of stasis; the classical form of dynamism 



314 Rationalization and Transformation 

is the spiral. Societies divided by class fought to own the earth, the line of their 
movement is horizontal. The spiral is the movement of liberated humanity. The 
spiral is the ideal expression of liberation: with its base set in the earth, it flees 
from the ground and becomes a symbol of the suspension of all animal, earthly 
and grovelling interests. 

Bourgeois societies love to develop the animal life on top of the earth, working 
its surface: they build shops, arcades, banks. Bourgeois life, based on the urban 
squares, was played out in full view and for show. Creative humanity disappears 
with its animal life into the earth, where the co-operatives' work is not visible. 
The square is a place for agitation, games and for festivals. Emancipated life 
rises above the earth, above grey and earthly materials. As living accommodation 
and social space carried to a level above the earth, the building is an expression 
of modernity and the content of contemporary life. At the same time, it 
comprises the content of a great artistic form. 

The content of any form can be taken and condensed by utility, because the 
utility of a form is nothing other than the organization of its content. Forms 
devoid of practical significance (the majority of artistic forms which have existed 
up to now), are simply forms which are not organized. And perhaps the principle 
of organization has for the first time actually been realized in art. The monument 
is calculated on the concentration of legislative (Structure A), executive (Struc- 
ture B) and informative (Structure C) initiatives; furthermore, in accordance 
with the stated principle of expressing modernity, these structures are raised 
into a higher level of space. In this way, and through the material (glass), the 
purity of the initiatives, their liberation from material constraints and their ideal 
qualities are stressed. An art devoid of creative idealism which is the content 
of intuition, is an art of impure rhythm. Up to now no one has succeeded in 
breaking rhythms down into the elements of material culture which define the 
growth and conditions of existence. But life itself consists of rhythms. Intuition 
flows in accordance with these rhythms. The purity and the intensity of the 
rhythms define the degree of talent, but I know of no more pure or intense 
rhythms than those in Tatlin's work. He possesses an eye of the greatest 
sensitivity with respect to material and it is precisely the juxtaposition of 
materials which defines the limits of the rhythmic waves. We accept, as a basis, 
that the unit of a rhythm is the section of a wave, enclosed between the qualities 
of the glass and the qualities of the iron. Just as the production of a number 
of oscillations along a wave is a spatial measure of sound, so the relationship of 
glass to iron is a measure of material rhythm. There is a stern and incandescent 
simplicity hidden in the juxtaposition of these two most elementary materials, 
both in a similar way brought into existence by fire. These materials are the 
elements of modern art. The form, defined by their juxtaposition, produces a 
rhythm of such broad and powerful oscillation that it seems like the birth of 
an ocean. 

To translate this form into reality means to realize a dynamism of the same 
unsurpassed greatness as that embodied in the stasis of the pyramid. We 
maintain that only the full power of the multi-million strong proletarian 
consciousness could bring into the world the idea of this monument and its 



hid Utility and Construction 315 

forms. The monument must be realized by the muscles of this power, because 
we have an ideal, living and classical expression in the pure and creative form 
of the international union of the workers of the whole world. 



5 Alexander Rodchenko (1891-1956) 'Slogans' and 
'Organizational Programme' of the Workshop for 
the Study of Painting in State Art Colleges 

After being involved in the avant-garde group around Tatlin, Rodchenko became the 
leading representative, firstly of laboratory research' and then of the movement from 
'art into production' in the years after the Revolution. He was involved in drawing up 
courses for the Vkhutemas, the State Higher Artistic and Technical Studios, where he 
taught from 1920 to 1930. From the mid-1920s, he turned mainly to photography. 
Both the 'Slogans' and the 'Organizational Programme', drawn up in 1920-21, were 
first published in Khudozhestvenno-konstructorskoe obrazovanie (Artistic-Constructive 
Education), no. 4, Moscow, 1973, pp. 203-6. The present translation is taken from 
5.-0. Khan Magomedov, Rodchenko: The Complete Work, London, 1986. 

Slogans 

(The discipline of construction, chief director Rodchenko) 

Construction = organization of elements. 

Construction is a modern concept. 

Art is a branch of mathematics, like all sciences. 

Construction is the modern requirement for organization and utilitarian use 
of material. 

Constructivist life is the art of the future. 

Art which does not enter into life will be put under a No. of the archaeological 
museum of antiquity. 

It is time that art entered into life in an organized fashion. 

Life organized along Constructivist lines is superior to the delirious magic art 
of the sorcerers. 

The future will not construct monasteries for the priests, prophets and 
minstrels of art. 

Down with art as a beautiful patch on the squalid life of the rich. 

Down with art as a precious stone in the midst of the dismal and dirty life 
of the poor. 

Down with art as a means of escaping from a life that is not worth living. 

Conscious and organized life, that knows how to see and build, is contem- 
porary art. 

The man who has organized his life, his work and himself is a genuine 
artist. 

Work for life and not for palaces, cathedrals, cemeteries and museums. 

Work in the midst of everything and with everybody; down with monasteries, 
institutes, studios, ateliers and islands. Awareness, experience, purpose, 



316 Rationalization and Transformation 



IIId Utility and Construction 317 



construction, technique and mathematics, these are the companions of contem- 
porary art. 

Organizational programme of the workshop for the study 
of painting in State Art Colleges 

1 The workshop for the study of painting has an educational and an experimen- 
tal function. 

a The scientific duties of the workshop are the analysis and elaboration of 
problems in art and in pictorial technique. In order to carry out this part 
of its work the workshop will conduct experiments: 

1 in the field of colour 

2 in the field of form 

3 following the laws of construction 

4 studying the treatment of the surface layer of materials, i.e. their 
preparation. 

b The educational aims of the workshop involve giving students a technical 
and scientific preparation and practice in the various techniques of 
painting, independently of creative individualism. 

2 The workshop is divided up into special sections for analysis of the separate 
elements of painting: 

1 colour 

2 form 

3 construction 

4 faktura 

5 materials. 

The study breaks down into: 

a elaboration of the elements taken individually 

1 analysis of the fundamental characteristics of each element (on the prac- 
tical and the theoretical plane) 

2 observation of examples of the treatment of elements in works of art from 
different periods 

3 analysis of elements in objects 

4 practical handling of special problems in the elaboration of individual 
elements 

b comparison of elements 

1 study of the interrelationship of different elements 

2 observation of the way elements are combined in works of art 

3 study of the combination of elements in objects 

4 practical handling of problems concerned with the combination of ele- 
ments. 

Rodchenko 
12 December 1920 



6 Alexander Rodchenko (1891-1956) and Varvara 
Stepanova (1894-1958) 'Programme of the First 
Working Group of Constructivists' 

Although the term has been widely applied to the Russian avant-garde in general, indeed 
to a later school of abstract art in the West in the shape of an 'international constructive 
tendency' (see IVaIO), 'Constructivism' in a strict sense came into being in Russia in 
1921 as part of moves to realign avant-garde art to the productive demands of building 
up the new, post-revolutionary society. It was intimately bound up with practical, 
theoretical and educational work taking place at Vkhutemas and Inkhuk. In addition to 
Rodchenko and Stepanova (who were married), leading members were Alexei Gan, 
Konstantin Medunetsky and the brothers Vladimir and Georgii Stenberg. Originally published 
in Ermitazh, no. 13, Moscow, August 1922, pp. 3-4. Other versions of the Programme 
exist in translation. This version was the only one printed in Russian during the 1920s. 
Translated by Christina Lodder for the Open University, 1983. 

The Group of Constructivists has set itself the task of finding the communistic 
expression of material structures. 

In approaching its task the group insists on the need to synthesize the 
ideological aspect with the formal for the real transference of laboratory work 
on to the rails of practical activity. 

Therefore, at the time of its establishment, the group's programme in its 
ideological aspect pointed out that: 

1 Our sole ideology is scientific communism based on the theory of historical 
materialism. 

2 The theoretical interpretation and assimilation of the experience of Soviet 
construction must impel the group to turn away from experimental activity 
'removed from life 1 towards real experimentation. 

3 In order to master the creation of practical structures in a really scientific 
and disciplined way the Constructivists have established three disciplines: 
Tectonics, Faktura and Construction. 

A Tectonics or the tectonic style is tempered and formed on the one hand 
from the properties of communism and on the other from the expedient 
use of industrial material. 

B Faktura is the organic state of the worked material or the resulting new 
state of its organism. Therefore, the group considers that faktura is 
material consciously worked and expediently used, without hampering the 
construction or restricting the tectonics. 

C Construction should be understood as the organizational function of 
Constructivism. 

If tectonics comprises the relationship between the ideological and the formal 
which gives unity to the practical design, and faktura is the material, the 
Construction reveals the very process of that structuring. 

In this way the third discipline is the discipline of the realization of the design 



318 Rationalization and Transformation 

through the use of the worked material. 

The Material. The material as substance or matter. Its investigation and 
industrial application, properties and significance. Furthermore, time, space 
volume, plane, colour, line and light are also material for the Constructivists' 
without which they cannot construct material structures. 

The Immediate Tasks Of The Group 

1 In the ideological sphere: 

To prove theoretically and practically the incompatibility of aesthetic activity 
with the functions of intellectual and material production. 
The real participation of intellectual and material production as an equal 
element in the creation of communist culture. 

2 In the practical sphere: 
To publish a statement. 

To publish a weekly paper, VIP [Vestnik IntellektuaTnogo Proizvodstva; The 

Herald of Intellectual Production]. 

To print brochures and leaflets on questions relating to the activities of the 

group. 

To construct designs. 

To organize exhibitions. 

To establish links with all the Production Boards and Centres of that unified 

Soviet machine which in fact practically shapes and produces the emergent 

forms of the communist way of life. 

3 In the agitational sphere: 

i The Group declares uncompromising war on art. 
ii It asserts that the artistic culture of the past is unacceptable for the 
communistic forms of Constructivist structures. 



7 Alexei Gan (1889-1942) from Constructivism 

The author was a designer as well as an artist and theorist active in Inkhuk and the 
First Working Group of Constructivists. Gan's book is the most extensive exposition of 
the principles of Constructivism, but is marked by an extremity of formulation which 
caused disagreement even within the group. The book itself embodied Constructivist 
typographical and design principles. The brief extract reproduced here discusses the 
key triad of Constructivist concepts: 'tectonics', 'faktura' and 'construction'. 'Faktura' 
essentially concerns the properties of materials and the processes of their working; 
'construction' ways of combining and organizing them; and 'tectonics' the vague, but 
from a constructivist perspective none the less essential, area of these principles' 
relation to the theory of Communism. Originally published as Konstruktivizm, Tver, 
1922. The present translation is taken from Camilla Gray, The Great Experiment, 
London, 1962. 

Tectonic emerges and forms itself based on the one hand on the characteristics 
of Communism, and on the other on the expedient use of industrial materials. 



hid Utility and Construction 319 

The word tectonic is taken from geology where it is used to define eruption 
from the earth's centre. 

Tectonic is a synonym for the organic, for the explosion from an inner being. 

The tectonic as a discipline should lead the Constructivist in practice to a 
synthesis of the new content and the new form. He must be a Marxist educated 
man who has once and for all outlived art and really advanced on industrial 
material. The tectonic is his guiding star, the brain of experimental and practical 
activity. 

Factum is the whole process of the working of material. The working of 
material as a whole and not the working of one side. 

Here the material is understood in its raw state. The expedient use of material 
means its selection and working over, but the character of this working over 
[of the material] in its integrity is factura: the organic condition of the worked 
over material or the new condition of its organism. 

The material is the body, the matter. The transformation of this raw material 
into one form or another continues to remind us of its primary form and conveys 
to us the next possibility in its transformation. 

In so far as we transform and work over [materials], we are engaged in factura. 
Proceeding from this, the second discipline one can formulate thus: Factura is 
to consciously select material and use it expediently without halting the move- 
ment of the construction or limiting its tectonic. 

Construction. Construction must be understood as the co-ordinating function 
of Constructivism. 

If the tectonic unites the ideological and formal, and as a result gives a unity 
of conception, and the factura is the condition of the material, then the 
construction discovers the actual process of putting together. 

Thus we have the third discipline, the discipline of the formation of concep- 
tion through the use of worked material. 

All hail to the Communist expression of material building! [. . .] 

The end has come to pure and applied [art]. A time of social expediency has 
begun. An object of only utilitarian significance will be introduced in a form 
acceptable to all. 

Nothing by chance, uncalculated, nothing from blind taste and aesthetic 
arbitrariness. Everything must be technically and functionally directed. 

Once and for all the idea of a final solution and eternal truths must be 
invalidated. 

The roots of art were always in material-formal substances, in production . . . 

From the speculative activity of art to socially directed artistic work . . . 

The technical system of society, the ordering of its wealth, creates the ordering 
of human relationships. . . . 

In the field of cultural organization, the only valid criterion is that which is 
*ndissolubly connected with the general tasks of the revolution . . . Art is dead! 
There is no room for it in the human work apparatus. Work, technique and 
organization! 

Let us tear ourselves away from our speculative activity [art] and find the 
w ay to real work, applying our knowledge and skills to real, live and expedient 



320 Rationalization and Transformation 

work. Intellectual-material production sets up working mutual relations and a 
production basis with science and technique, replacing art which by its very 
nature cannot be disentangled from religion and philosophy and is not capable 
of pulling itself out of the closed circle of abstract, speculative activity 

Tectonic, factum, construction. Retaining the lasting material and formal basis 
of art such as colour, line, surface, volume and movement, artistic work 
materialistically directed will become, in conditions of expedient activity and 
intellectual-material production, capable of opening new means of artistic ex- 
pression. 

Not to reflect, not to represent and not to interpret reality, but to really build 
and express the systematic tasks of the new class, the proletariat. The master 
of colour and line, the builder of space-volume forms and the organizer of mass 
productions must all become constructors in the general work of the arming 
and moving of the many-millioned human masses. . . . 

Our Constructivism has declared unconditional war on art, for the means and 
qualities of art are not able to systematize the feelings of a revolutionary 
environment. [ . . . ] 



8 



El Lissitsky (1890-1947) and Ilya Ehrenberg 
(1891-1967) Statement by the Editors of Veshch 



Lissitsky and the writer Ehrenburg collaborated in 1922 to produce a short-lived triling- 
ual journal under the name Veshch/Gegenstand/Objet, intended to relate developments 
in post-revolutionary Soviet art and design to similar movements in the West. Typically 
the cover of the third issue drew together Malevich's Black Square and a locomotive in 
a dramatic montage. The journal occupied a mid-point between Suprematism and utilita- 
rian Constructivism. The statement reproduced here was delivered by Lissitsky to a con- 
gress of 'progressive artists' in Dusseldorf in 1992 and was instrumental in the organisa- 
tion of an International Fraction of Constructivists' at that Congress. The Veshch state- 
ment was published in De Stijl, V, no. 4, Amsterdam, 1992. The present translation, by 
Nicholas Bullock, is taken from Bann, op. cit. 

1 I come here as representative of the magazine Veshch/Gegenstand/Objet, 
which stands for a new way of thinking and unites the leaders of the new 
art in nearly all countries. 

2 Our thinking is characterized by the attempt to turn away from the old 
subjective, mystical conception of the world and to create an attitude of 
universality - clarity - reality. 

3 That this way of thinking is truly international may be seen from the fact 
that during a seven-year-period of complete isolation from the outside world, 
we were attacking the same problems in Russia as our friends here in the 
West, but without any knowledge of the others. In Russia we have fought 
a hard but fruitful struggle to realize the new art on a broad social and 
political front. 

4 In doing so we have learned that progress in art is possible only in a society 
that has already completely changed its social structure. 



hid Utility and Construction 321 

By progress we mean here the freeing of art from its role as ornament and 
decoration, from the need to satisfy the emotions of the few. Progress means 
proving and explaining that everybody has the right to create. We have 

| nothing to do with those who minister to art like priests in a cloister. 

I 6 The new art is founded not on a subjective, but on an objective basis. This, 
like science, can be described with precision and is by nature constructive. 
It unites not only pure art, but all those who stand at the frontier of the 
new culture. The artist is companion to the scholar, the engineer, and the 
worker. 

7 As yet the new art is not always understood; it is not only society that 
misunderstands it, but more dangerously, it is misunderstood by those who 
call themselves progressive artists. 

8 To combat this situation we must join ranks so that we really can fight back. 
'i It is essentially this fight that unites us. If our aim were only to defend the 

material interests of a group of people called artists, we would not need 
j; another union, because there are already international unions for painters, 

decorators, and varnishers, and professionally we belong to these. 

9 We regard the founding of an International of Progressive 
Artists as the banding together of fighters for the new culture. 
Once again art will return to its former role. Once again we shall find a 
collective way of relating the work of the artist to the universal. 



9 LEF: 'Whom is LEF Alerting?' 

Vladimir Mayakovsky, the leading revolutionary poet, organized the group 'Left Front of 
the Arts' around the journal LEF in 1923. During the years of the civil war, 'leftist' art 
had been hegemonic. In the changed conditions of the New Economic Policy more 
technically conservative trends in art and literature re-emerged, claiming to serve the 
Revolution under the banners of 'realism' and 'popularity'. Mayakovsky's aim was to 
regroup the Left and re-establish its claims to be the true art of the Revolution. This 
manifesto-editorial appeared in the first issue of LEF, pp. 10-11, Moscow, 1923. The 
present translation, by Richard Sherwood, is taken from Form, no. 10, Brighton, 
October 1969 (reprinted in Screen, vol. 12, no. 4, London, Winter 1971-2). 

This is addressed to us. Comrades in Lef! 

We know that we, the 'left' master-craftsmen, are the best workers in today's 
art. Up to the Revolution we piled up highly correct draft-plans, clever theorems 
and cunning formulae, for the forms of the new art. 

One thing is clear: the slippery, globular belly of the bourgeoisie was a bad 
site for building. 

During the Revolution we amassed a great many truths, we studied life, we 
received the task of building a very real structure for the centuries ahead. 

A world shaken by the booming of war and revolution is difficult soil for 
grandiose constructions. 

We temporarily filed away our formulae, while helping to consolidate the days 
of revolution. 



322 Rationalization and Transformation 

Now the globe of the bourgeois paunch exists no longer. Sweeping away the 
old with the revolution we cleared the field for the new structures of art at the 
same time. The earthquake is over. Cemented by spilt blood the USSR stands 
firmly. 

It is time to start big things. The seriousness of our attitude to ourselves is the 
one solid foundation for our work. 

Futurists! 

Your services to art are great; but don't dream of living on the dividend of 
yesterday's revolutionary spirit. Show by your work today that your outburst is 
not the desperate wailing of the wounded intelligentsia, but a struggle, labouring 
shoulder to shoulder with all those who are straining towards the victory of the 
commune. 

Construe tivists ! 

Be on your guard against becoming just another aesthetic school. Construc- 
tivism in art alson is nothing. It is a question of the very existence of art. 
Constructivism must become the supreme formal engineering of the whole of 
life. Constructivism in a performance of shepherd pastorals is nonsense. Our 
ideas must be developed on the basis of present-day things. 

Production artists! 

Be on your guard against becoming applied-artist handicraftsmen. 

In teaching the workers learn from the worker. In dictating aesthetic orders 
to the factory from your studios you become simply customers. 

Your school is the factory floor. 

Formalists! 

The formal method is the key to the study of art. Every flea of a rhyme must 
be accounted for. But avoid catching fleas in a vacuum. Only together with the 
sociological study of art will your work become not only interesting, but 
necessary. 

Students! 

Avoid giving out the chance distortions of the dilettante striving for innova- 
tion, for the 'dernier cri' of art. The innovation of the dilettante is a steamship 
on the legs of a chicken. 

Only in craftsmanship have you the right to throw out the old. 

Everyone together! 

As you go from theory to practice remember your craftsmanship, your 
technical skill. 

Hackwork on the part of the young who have the strength for collossal things, 
is even more repulsive than the hackwork of the flabby little academics. 

Master and students of 'Lef 7 

The question of our very existence is being decided. The very gre